In theory, yesterday was supposed to be an easy day for Andy Murray. Sure enough, David Ferrer was going to be a cussed opponent to beat but at least his off-court life had settled down a bit and he ought to have been free simply to concentrate on the tennis. But it has not been that sort of tournament for the Scot.
On the plus side, his father-in-law, Nigel Sears, was back in Britain, at home and doing well after his sudden collapse on Saturday night. There was also no news from London about his pregnant wife Kim. So far so good. On the down side, there was a massive thunderstorm heading towards Melbourne that forced Murray’s quarter-final to be halted just as the world No 2 had started to get the better of proceedings in the third set. Nothing is going Murray’s way this week.
I think I’ve dealt with everything away from the court better than I have on itAndy Murray
He beat Ferrer in the end 6-3, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3 and at last was beginning to feel like he was playing well again, but it was anything but easy. Ferrer started poorly in the first set, fought back to take the second and then just as Murray had taken a 3-1 lead in the third, play was suspended while the organisers closed the roof. Just when the momentum had swung back in his favour, he was told to sit down and take a breather. That was the last thing he needed.
“When the roof closed, I was obviously up a break in the third and was feeling good,” Murray said. “That first game after the delay was very important. I saved a couple of break points, but then actually played a good game. Then I felt like I started to play better as the match went on.”
When the roof was closed, Murray took the game to Ferrer. His second serve was firing well, he was attacking from the baseline and he finally got his own way.
After all the dramas and worries of the past few days, he was through to the semi-finals and within touching distance of yet another final in Melbourne Park.
Getting to the last four was not a surprise given Murray’s form and his ranking. However, doing it while coping with the events away from the court this week gave him more than a little cause for satisfaction.
“I’m not particularly proud of the way I’ve handled myself on the court and I don’t think that my behaviour on the court has been impeccable,” he said, “I’ve showed a lot of emotion on court and getting upset from the beginning of matches.
“One thing I’ve done very well is fight for every single point, not given away games. Even when I’ve been broken, I’ve fought hard in the next game and made it very difficult for my opponents.
“Although I’m not exactly being very positive with myself, I’m still very difficult for my opponents and fighting hard for every point. So that’s good. I’m more proud of how I’ve handled myself away from the court. I think I’ve dealt with everything away from the court better than I have on it, probably.”
Certainly his support team are cutting him a little slack. The effing and blinding directed towards them when things are going badly on court has not been taken personally and his coach, Amélie Mauresmo, is not concerned about his behaviour. She is just happy that he is winning and that everything back at home appears to be calm.
“We know that right now it’s a little bit complicated for him, lots of things to deal with so there are ups and downs,” she said. “But I feel he’s pretty strong considering that because he’s going through many different emotional states and he still beats Ferrer after a huge fight. Right now, it’s a big performance. We’re all here, he knows he can count on us. We’re trying to move forward.”
The next step forward is to find a way to beat Milos Raonic, the tall Canadian with the cannonball serve. He overpowered Gael Monfils 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the last four and will head into tomorrow’s match chockful of confidence. He beat Roger Federer in the Brisbane final at the start of the month and with a new coach in the shape of Carlos Moya to guide him, he is playing a far more aggressive and attacking game than in past years.
Murray knows that his chances will be few and far between if Raonic continues to play as he did yesterday and that he will need to be at his focused and concentrated best to win – he needs to find the same serenity under extreme pressure that he showed in winning the Davis Cup last year. But doing that as an individual in a grand slam does is very different from doing it as a member of a team in a three-day competition.
“I think it is possible to do it in a grand slam,” he said. “I think in certain situations I have shown it. The Wimbledon final, and the last game of that match, in terms of how I was, how it would have appeared to everyone else – I looked fairly calm on the outside. It’s not necessarily how I felt on the inside.”
Noisy or quiet, frustrated or calm, at least Murray is not thinking about what is going on back at his home in Surrey when he is in the middle of a match. Although it does not stop him worrying when he gets back to his hotel. “No, that’s the one thing I’d say has been pretty good,” he said. “I do think what it would be like to be home just now. Each day that passes I’m closer to that, which is positive. And with each day that passes, it’s also closer to the birth, and I get more anxious about that as well, so hopefully everything’s all right in the next few days.”
It is not long to go before Murray will be free to fly home and be with his wife as they prepare for the arrival of their first child. And if he can keep his concentration in lockdown, he might just be doing it as an Australian Open champion.