ANDY MURRAY caused quite a stir when he appointed Amelie Mauresmo as his coach last summer and now he has added Serena Williams to his long list of supporters – she is backing him to win the Australian Open.
Today, Murray faces Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the quarter-finals, the same man who ended the Scot’s title defence at Wimbledon just six months ago. With the whole of the Centre Court crowd desperate to see him win, Murray limped to a tame and listless straight-sets defeat. He has always said that it was just a bad day – these things happen. But, on Friday night, after crushing Joao Sousa, he admitted for the first time that he had not been physically 100 per cent against Dimitrov.
“I felt slow on the court, I felt sluggish, I made mistakes I don’t normally make,” Murray said. “When I tried to make more balls rather than just going for shots – because I was making a lot of errors at the beginning of the match – I still felt like I was making mistakes.
“I did a few physical tests after Wimbledon last year that maybe suggested there were a few things that weren’t quite where I wanted them to be but I was just hitting the ball very badly that day and I don’t know why exactly.”
Quite what those tests were and what they revealed, he did not say but, clearly, something ailed him that day. Now, though, he is looking like the fittest man in town and he did manage to right the wrongs of that June afternoon by squashing Dimitrov at the Paris indoors event last November. This morning, he is ready for whatever Dimitrov throws at him.
“If you find reasons for why something happened, you can fix it, but for me it was just a bad day,” Murray said. “You could probably ask all of the players in this tournament to name a couple of matches in a year where they’ve just not played well or felt like they’ve had a bad day or a loss of form and there’s nothing you can put your finger on. Roger Federer losing to Andreas Seppi on Friday might be a good example. Novak [Djokovic] will play matches like it during the year and, unfortunately for me, it came at Wimbledon and that was what was most disappointing about it.”
Williams knows just how Murray felt that day. She looked as if she had just got out of bed when she took on Elina Svitolina, the world No.26 from Ukraine. It took her nearly 40 minutes to work up a head of steam – by which time she was a set down – but once she was up to full power, she motored into the fourth round 4-6, 6-2, 6-0. She now plays Garbine Muguruza, the woman who beat her in the second round of the French Open last summer.
“I thought that day she played well,” Williams said. “She didn’t miss a shot. She didn’t miss a forehand. She miraculously got every ball back. As a top player you have to be ready for that. You have to be ready for everything and anything. I believe she has the potential to want to do that again against me. So I’m going to be ready for that.”
Williams is also ready for Murray to win his third grand slam title. She played him in an exhibition mixed doubles match before Christmas and, ever since then, she has been one of his biggest fans.
“I like Andy’s attitude; I always have,” Williams said. “Andy is a great player. He destroyed me in that match and I felt really bad. It was just in mixed doubles. I thought I really would have a bigger chance. But, honestly, he was at the net, so it wasn’t really a fair opportunity.
“The girl was serving, he was at the net, covering the net. I have a whole new appreciation for his game. He had great hands. I just saw he’s amazing to watch. I really kind of liked that. But I was able to return his serve pretty well. I’ve been rooting for Andy the whole time, so we’ll see what happens.”
Djokovic, meanwhile, eased into the fourth round, overpowering Fernando Verdasco 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 and will face Gilles Muller tomorrow.