THE waiting is over: Andy Murray shall go to the ATP World Tour Finals after all. By blitzing Grigor Dimitrov yesterday at the BNP Paribas Masters, Scotland’s finest collected the necessary ranking points to secure his ticket to the O2 Arena in London to take part in the multi-million pound showcase event for the top eight men in the world. Murray is back where he belongs.
It has been a long haul since the Scot started his race around the world in search of ranking points and titles. This is his sixth week on the road and yesterday was his 22nd match in 35 days – he has won all but two of them – but his recent success is a direct result of his drop in the rankings after the US Open when he fell out of the world’s top ten for the first time since 2008. He had to stop thinking like a grand slam champion and start from scratch again.
“When I dropped out of the top ten, that kind of hit me a little bit,” he said. “I thought I needed to get back to winning tournaments, I shouldn’t be having a ‘top four player in the world’ schedule right now. If I’m going to get back to the top, I’m going to have to start winning other events.
“I would say that probably came when I dropped out of the top ten. I hadn’t been out of the top ten for about six or seven years. It was time to start winning again, get my head down and start to win the less glamourous events, and change my schedule and it’s worked out well thankfully.”
This week he is back up to No 8 in the world pecking order and, if he continues to win in Paris and starts knocking over the big names in London, he could end the year in the world’s top four. All things considered, it has not been such a bad year, after all. And that is why he had a gentle dig at his critics after he had marmalised Dimitrov 6-3, 6-3. As he signed the TV camera lens at the side of the court, he added a sly dig. “Bad Year!” he wrote clearly and pointedly.
“It wasn’t a jibe, it was a bit of fun,” he said. “If people are going to ask me all the time why I’ve had such a poor year by my standards, then, yeah, you’re allowed sometimes to say something in response to that.
“I’ve stuck at it and played well the last few months, even since the French Open I’ve played well but against the top guys you need something a bit extra and hopefully I’ll be able to find that now, and know what I need to do next year if I want to keep getting better.”
Murray was pretty much at his best yesterday against Dimitrov. Clean-shaven and sporting a nice, neat, new haircut, he was clinical and precise from the very first ball. His three tournament victories of late have all come at smaller events where the field is not as strong and the men standing between him and the trophy are not regarded as potential grand slam contenders. The Masters 1000 events are a cut above all that and Dimitrov, the man who walloped him in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, has already earned his status as a champion-in-waiting. This was a step up in class and Murray was more than ready for the new challenge.
There was an eagerness in Murray’s every action: he served well, dropping just eight points on serve throughout the 69-minute match.
He moved freely and with a spring in every step and he absolutely clattered his forehand. He was sharp, he was focused and he applied the pressure from the first point.
On the other side of the net, Dimitrov did not know quite what to do. If he played safe, he was punished but if he went for broke, he was, more often than not, second guessed. And then there was the time that he just tried too hard and missed the mark. Murray was not giving him a moment’s peace and the Bulgarian had no clue what to do about it.
“There were no downs really in the match,” Murray said. “Some of the matches that I’ve had against the top, top players I had some periods in the match where my level had dropped off a little bit, and the best players capitalise on those moments. I didn’t have any of them today.
“I played well from start to finish. I made it very difficult for Grigor. Hardly made any mistakes at all throughout the match. So it was good. I don’t think he had any break points either, so obviously served well and played well behind my serve. That helps, especially indoors.”
And beating Dimitrov helps Murray find an excuse for not going to watch his mother, Judy, compete in Strictly Come Dancing. He is hoping to be playing in the semi-finals in Paris this Saturday and preparing for his opening match at the Tour Finals next Saturday. Sorry Judy.
“I am assuming I’m not going be there,” he said. “It would probably be quite a tough watch for me. There’s a possibility I could go when I’m back but I could play the following day there, if it’s on the Saturday I could play the next day. It’s been a long six weeks so I’m quite looking forward to getting back and being in my own bed and my home for quite a few days, rather than watching some very average dancing.”
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