ANDY Murray is himself again. For the first time since he was winning Wimbledon 18 months ago, the Scot is playing like one of the world’s finest – fit, confident, aggressive and totally focused on crushing all who stand in his way.
Andy Murray bt Grigor Dimitrov 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 7-5
For more than three-and-a-half hours, he played like a man who was ready to win his third grand slam trophy as he beat Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5. This was Murray in his pomp; this was the Murray of old.
Dimitrov, nicknamed “Baby Fed” on account of his precocious talent, his one-handed backhand and flying forehand, leads the new wave of potential champions who are desperate to unseat the established kings of the court. He is good, is Dimitrov, but he could not match Murray in pursuit of a place in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Not this time.
For the neutrals in the crowd, it was possibly the best match of the tournament so far. It had everything – shot-making, athleticism, reflex winners conjured up out of near impossible situations, power, finesse – there was nothing that either man was not prepared to try and there was little that either man could not turn into a potential winner.
“I thought I played well,” Murray said. “I thought he started the match extremely well. He came out very aggressive, very explosive. But, you know, it’s tough to keep that sort of level of intensity up. And then once I got myself into the match, I felt like I was able to dictate a lot of the points. I thought tactically I played a good match. I was disappointed with the 6-5 game I played in the second set. Also the tiebreak I made a few bad decisions. Third set was good. And fourth set, I just fought hard at the end and he played a loose game when he served for the set. That was it.
“It’s very difficult for me to say right now whether that was the best I have played since I had my back surgery. But in terms of how my body felt, if it was the best I played then it’s because my body allowed me to play that way for the whole duration of the match.
“I didn’t feel tired. I felt fresh. My back felt good. I wasn’t feeling stiff at all. In these conditions over the last couple years I struggled a little bit, and I felt absolutely fine this evening. For a match that went three-and-a-half hours, physically I felt way better than the last year or so.”
What will have pleased Amelie Mauresmo most of all was the way her charge was so calm, controlled and focused for all but a few points of the four sets. Dimitrov played like a man possessed at the beginning of the match but Murray bided his time, assessed the situation and then started to apply the pressure. He served well, he returned even better and he stepped up to the baseline to outmuscle Dimitrov in rally after rally.
From a break down in that first set, Murray took charge and looked to be heading for a straight-sets victory. But then Dimitrov found a second wind; he began to attack at every opportunity and lay down his markers. If Murray was going to run and chase every ball, Dimitrov was going to do it better and faster. Suddenly the game was on again.
When Murray faced a set point, serving at 5-2 down in the fourth set, a deciding set seemed inevitable. That was when the Scot, the fit and healthy Scot, was able to flex his muscles again. For the first time since 2013, he was physically and mentally ready to dig in and as he forced the issue, he allowed the tiring Dimitrov just one more game as he powered into the last eight.
“I felt like in the fourth set, he was trying to shorten a lot of the points,” Murray said. “If you went back and watched it, especially when he got ahead, he was trying to come forward a lot. Then on my service games he was going for broke a little bit off my serves. First and second serves he was going for big returns.
“So I felt like maybe he was tired. I don’t know if he was, but that was the feeling I got with the way he was playing at that stage. So I tried to, towards the end of the set, extend the rallies. And physically I felt completely different to how I felt at the US Open last year or even here last year when I played a long match, especially in cold conditions. It was like night and day.”
The only time Murray was distracted from the task in front of him was in the second set. A cheer suddenly went up in the stadium when the crowd realised that Nick Kyrgios had just beaten Andreas Seppi 5-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 8-6 and was through to meet Murray in the quarter-finals. It was the first time an Australian player had reached the last eight in ten years and the home crowd, on Australia Day weekend, were delirious.
“I heard a lot of noise,” Murray said. “I had to ask my box what it was for because I had my back to the scoreboard and I didn’t know if Grigor had maybe tried to get the crowd pumped up or something. Then they told me that Kyrgios had just won. He’s had an unbelievable tournament. He’s only going to keep getting better and I’m going to have to play a great match to beat him.
“Obviously the crowd will be right behind him. Understandably so. They’re going to watch him play a lot of matches like this over the next ten, 15 years probably. And that’s just something that I’ll have to deal with in my way. I’ve played in French Open against French players where the crowd can be very difficult. I’ve experienced it before, so hopefully I’ll deal with it well.”
Murray’s record against Australians is an impressive 10-0 including a straight sets pasting of Kyrgios in Canada last summer. For the 19-year-old, it will be a huge night; for the more experienced two-time grand slam champion, it will be another day at the office. And Murray has watched the young man from Canberra closely – he believes he has a few tricks up his sleeve to cope with the local hero when the time comes.
“I would expect it to be a different match to when we played in Toronto,” Murray said. “Obviously it’s best-of-five sets. It was a fairly empty stadium when we played before – I think Nick enjoys playing in front of a crowd. So that will probably change things a bit, too. We played during the day, as well. I’ll assume that we’ll probably play the night match in a couple of days, and that changes the conditions again. There were some things that I did in that match which I believe will work in a couple days’ time, stuff that I feel I can use and exploit in his game.”
Not only is Murray playing and moving like a potential winner in Melbourne, he is sounding like one, too. It is just like the good old days of 2013.
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