NORMALLY, the fireworks in Melbourne are reserved for Australia Day but, as Tomas Berdych learned to his cost yesterday, if you light the blue touch paper anywhere near Andy Murray, it is advisable to stand well back.
Andy Murray beat Tomas Berdych 6-7 (6-8) 6-0 6-3 7-5
Thanks to a misplaced aside and a lot of pre-match build up, Berdych managed to throw his one-set lead against the world No 6 on to the bonfire and could only watch as the Scot went up like a rocket. Murray pounded Berdych into submission 6-7, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 to reach his fourth Australian Open final and the eighth grand slam final of his career.
And all it took was a cocky swagger from the Czech and the innocuous comment “Good play, Tomas,” to fall from his lips. The two men were heading back to their chairs after a 76-minute opening set; Murray had just been edged out in the tiebreak and he was a bundle of nervous energy. When he heard Berdych’s remark, he cracked, complaining to the umpire, Pascal Maria – to no avail – and fretted through the brief break.
When he got back to work, Murray was a new man. He had been on the defensive throughout that first set, pushed well behind the baseline as the 6ft 5ins man-mountain clattered his groundstrokes. But with the bit between his teeth, Murray started again.
He stepped up to the baseline and attacked, thumping his forehand, taking the initiative, leaning into his backhand and eliminating any hint of weakness Berdych may have spotted in the previous set. By now, it seemed personal and there was not a point that Murray seemed willing to let slip. He wanted that love set more than anything in the world – and after 30 minutes of this battering, Berdych capitulated. In more than an hour of play from the first set tiebreak, the Czech was allowed just three games.
“I was a little bit tentative at the beginning and getting used to his ball,” Murray said. “He hits the ball extremely hard and flat. At the start I felt like I was on the back foot a little bit. Towards the end of the first set I started to come into it more, be more aggressive.
“Then second set I just picked up from how I was playing at the end of the first. I felt like I could have won the first set. Obviously had some chances there. I was extremely aggressive in the second set. Managed to run away with it.”
Speaking after the match, Murray was calm and assured. But playing Berdych, now coached by Dani Vallverdu, his friend and the man he let go from his team back in November, he was anything but. When Berdych broke in the first set and then Murray broke straight back, the Scot turned to Vallverdu and roared in celebration. When Murray ‘bagelled’ the Czech – winning the second set to love – he was off and running.
“I knew that when I was dictating the points and I was getting the first strike in, I was winning the majority of those points,” Murray said. “I was trying to do that more and more as the match went on. And I think I managed to do it quite a bit at the end. I played very, very well tonight. I’m very happy with the way that I played the match.”
He has every right to be, too. In each of his last three matches, Murray has shown the tactical nous and physical strength to put him back at the very top of the game. After the trials and tribulations of last year, a frustrating season spent returning from back surgery at the end of 2013, he is now not only back to his best, he is better than he was when he was winning Wimbledon. And the man himself wanted to make sure that his coach, Amélie Mauresmo, got most of the credit.
“Before the match, I got asked all the time about my ex-coach working with Tomas and no one was interested in anything I was doing with Amelie or the way I was playing or anything,” he said. “A lot of people were also criticising her at the end of last year, like the way I was playing was her fault when I’d spent two weeks training with her up to the end of the year, until the training block.
“You can’t change things during tournaments. There was very little time to spend with each other. There was no reason for her to be criticised for anything. I don’t know if this win is vindication but I’m just very happy for her that I won the match tonight.”
So, now, in blistering form, Murray can prepare for Sunday’s final against either Novak Djokovic or Stan Wawrinka. To have lost three Australian Open finals in the past is not a particularly happy memory for him but, that said, reaching four is a remarkable achievement.
“For me to be in the final four times here,” he said, “because I’m surrounded by guys like Roger, Novak and Rafa, it doesn’t look like much, but that doesn’t happen that often. So I’m very proud of that.
“Making four finals is a very, very difficult thing to do. It’s not easy to do. And I’m proud of my record here. I’ll try my best on Sunday. I’ll go in with best tactics possible, prepare well, couple days’ rest, recover as best as I can. And all I can do is give my best. If it’s enough, great. If not, I literally couldn’t have done anything more to put myself in a better position come Sunday.”
There may yet be more fireworks to come before this Australian Open is over.
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