French Open: Andy Murray gets closer despite loss

Andy Murray tracks back in his semi-final French Open match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia. Picture: Getty Images
Andy Murray tracks back in his semi-final French Open match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia. Picture: Getty Images
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AS ANDY Murray pointed out tearfully after the 2012 Wimbledon final, he is getting closer.

• Novak Djokovic bt Andy Murray 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1

Back then, he was trying to win his first Grand Slam title and was in bits after Roger Federer had beaten him in four sets.

Yesterday, there were no tears. This time there was just disappointment that he had not found a way to beat Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the French Open, but that frustration was mixed with a real sense of hope. He had pushed the world No.1 to five sets; he had fought back from two sets down and for the third and fourth sets, he had Djokovic on the ropes.

Murray ended up losing 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1 in a rain-delayed match that started on Friday evening and finished in the sunshine of yesterday afternoon, but the result boiled down to just a handful of points – had Murray been able to play them a little better the result could have been so different. That was more than enough reason to feel positive about his eighth consecutive loss to Djokovic.

When Murray lost in the Australian Open final, he was not mentally strong enough to put the Serb away. When the two met in Indian Wells and Miami, Murray did not seem physically strong enough to cope with the challenge. This time, he was mentally tough and physically strong – Djokovic just beat him on a surface that he loves and Murray has only just mastered.

“I’d suggest it’s pretty close after today’s and yesterday’s match, yeah,” Murray said of the gap between him and the world No.1. “I thought physically I was much better today, as well as yesterday. We had been playing, I don’t know how long it was, just over three hours, and I felt good on the court [on Friday]. That was after a pretty tough match against [David] Ferrer [in the quarter-finals], which was also three hours a couple of days ago. That was very positive for me: physically I felt like I was doing really well yesterday. I don’t know how good Novak was feeling, but I felt like I was in a good position at that stage. So that was the most positive thing for me. Physically I was right there.”

But after two hours on Friday, it appeared that Murray was on his way home. Two sets in arrears and facing two break points in the third set, his situation seemed hopeless. But that is when he started to fight. He pumped himself up, he encouraged the crowd to get involved and he went after Djokovic, hell for leather. When play was suspended – a thunderstorm was about to hit Roland Garros – Murray was 3-3 in the fourth set and fighting tooth and nail for every point.

When they resumed yesterday, Djokovic was as tight as a drum and Murray could sense it. Again, the Scot started working the crowd, getting them on his side so putting more pressure on the top seed. And it worked. Djokovic made almost as many unforced errors in the first six games yesterday than he had in the whole of the second set on Friday – and it cost him the set.

But then, as only Djokovic can, he regrouped. Murray had half a chance to earn a break point in the opening game of the fifth set but dumped his backhand into the net. It was the tiniest of openings but Murray knew that he could not afford to miss it. When he did, Djokovic knew he had been let off the hook – he held serve – and Murray could not shake the frustration from his mind. The Scot played four poor points, dropped his serve and from there Djokovic never looked back.

“The first game of the fifth set, I had little chance on his serve,” Murray said. “I had deuce and a second serve there. And then I played a loose game on my serve the first game of the set with the new balls. I missed I think three balls long in that game. Then I think Novak relaxed a little bit after that and he hit the ball extremely accurate.

“In the fifth set he was hitting the ball very close to the line, so I ended up doing a lot of defending. I felt like I ended up putting up like six or seven lobs just because he was hitting the ball very close to the line. But, yeah, obviously the beginning of the fifth set was good for him.”

So now Djokovic will face Stan Wawrinka today for the Roland Garros title. It is the one trophy the Serb wants above all others and if he wins it, he will complete his career Grand Slam. But so great is the pressure on him that Amélie Mauresmo, Murray’s coach, is not convinced he can get the job done. She saw how nervous Djokovic became when her man applied the thumb screws; in the final it will be even worse if Wawrinka can start to dictate play.

“Djokovic is very tight there, very tight,” she said. “It is therefore going to be interesting to see how the final will go. Everyone sees it. In his attitude, in his shots. But it is understandable, also.

“Between the end of last night and the start today, Andy really showed some really good things in his play and his attitude. There are a lot of positives to take from that. But to come back from two sets down is not easy, especially against Djokovic. And then he played a bad game to get broken at the start of the fifth set and then it is difficult to come back.”

Murray ought not to be too disappointed, though: Djokovic’s win-loss record in best-of-five set matches is now a staggering 157-1 when he has won the first two sets. The fact that Murray came so close to

making that 156-2 is an achievement in itself.

“My game, I think, is back close to where it needs to be to winning Slams,” Murray said. “Physically I’m back there again, and obviously now with the grass court season coming up, hopefully I can get myself an opportunity there. Physically I’m in a much better place. We’ll see what happens the next few months, but it’s been a good start to the year.”

Murray is certainly getting closer and there are still two Grand Slams to be decided before the season ends. Djokovic is the undisputed No.1 but Murray is hot on his heels.