Andy Murray beat Tomas Berdych in two sets, 6-4 6-4, to reach the Miami Open final for the fourth time last night.
Victory levelled Murray’s head-to-head record against Berdych at 6-6 and clinched a showdown for the title against either world No 1 Novak Djokovic or John Isner, who were due to play late last night in the other semi-final.
Djokovic beat Murray in the last four at Indian Wells last week and the British No 1 admitted he would need to improve significantly to compete should they meet again in tomorrow’s final.
The first three games went against the serve before two-time champion Murray found his rhythm and began to dominate Berdych, ending the first set having hit 77 per cent of his first serves and won 80 per cent of those points.
A crushing return took him 0-30 up as Berdych served to begin the second set, and the Czech then dumped an easy volley into the net and double-faulted to gift Murray the break.
Berdych won a brilliant rally to get to 30-30 in Murray’s next service game and it was the Scot’s turn to double-fault at a key moment, setting up deuce. A sublime lob put Murray back on top but he was unable to close the game out and again, the players had traded breaks at the start of the set.
And again it became three in a row as some dominant returns from Murray took him 2-1 up and he was rarely troubled from there.
Murray, who has a home nearby and practices on the Key Biscayne courts, won the championship in 2009 and 2013, and was the runner-up in 2012.
“I’ve obviously played some good tennis here over the years,” Murray said. “The reason for that is because I’m extremely familiar with the conditions, with the surface, the way the court plays.”
“I did most things well, there’s not a lot I could complain about,” Murray added.
“My second serve was much better in the second set, I served well on the big points and got a lot of free points behind my serve.
“I dictated a lot of the points from the baseline and that’s important because when he’s inside the baseline and controls points, he’s a very powerful guy.
“I just played a bit better than him. That was the difference. When I was behind in games, like the last game, for example, I came up with some big serves and was able to dictate a lot of the rallies from the baseline.”
The final is Murray’s first since he was runner-up to Djokovic at the Australian Open in February and his first in two years at an ATP Masters 1000 tournament.
Murray improved to 6-6 against Berdych and has won their past two matches.
“Andy changed the game plan a bit,” Berdych said. “He started to play much more aggressive in the last two matches that he played me. Now I know what to expect and I’ll just be more ready for it.”
Asked what he would have to do in a possible match against Djokovic, Murray began: “Play better than I did last week, that would be a good start!
“I know I need to play high-level tennis, he returns well so I need to get the balance right of being patient but dictating points when I get the opportunity.
“I’ll also be aggressive against the second serve, I’ll be inside the baseline attacking – that’s something I’ve done well this week and didn’t do at Indian Wells, so that’s something different.
“And just hopefully play a cleaner match. But I’ve played well this week, much better than I did at Indian Wells.”
Serena Williams and Carla Suarez Navarro will contest the women’s final today, with Williams acknowledging that she has not been at her best this week.
Nevertheless Williams has kept grinding out the wins. Fresh from her 700th career success on Wednesday, the world No 1 saw off Indian Wells champion Simona Halep 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 to set up her showdown with Navarro.
“I hit more errors than I did in my last match, which I thought was impossible,” Williams said of her win over Halep.
“I’m just not at my best level right now which is a little frustrating.”
Williams has held top spot in the rankings for 110 weeks, though, and knows what improvements she has to make.
“I feel like the match was on my racket and I really had opportunities in the second. I just didn’t take them,” Williams added. “That is something I can’t do going into the grand slams coming up.”
Navarro goes into the final after making fairly light work of Andrea Petkovic, who was seeded three places higher in ninth, easing to a 6-3, 6-3 victory.
The Spaniard did not face a single break point in nine service games, dropping just 13 points, while Petkovic offered up 32 unforced errors to bow out with a whimper.
“I feel so happy. It’s so important for me,” said Navarro. “I was practicing and working all year with my team for a moment like this.”