After taking ten sets and more than seven hours to arrive at yesterday’s meeting with the huge Ivo Karlovic, the world No 2 was efficient, focused and in excellent form to dismiss the big-serving Croat 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 in one hour and 56 minutes. That was just the result he had been looking for.
After struggling past the infuriatingly unorthodox Radek Stepanek and almost coming unstuck against a French wild card he had never seen before – Mathias Bourgue – playing Karlovic was like coming home. Murray knew exactly what to expect and exactly what to do after beating him six times in the past.
Karlovic is a big bloke with a big serve, he is not particularly mobile and loves to come forward. Murray, meanwhile, is one of the best returners in the game, he loves a target at the net to pass and he can step up to the baseline and move his opponent around from the back of the court. This was just what Murray needed to get his French Open campaign back on course and bolster his confidence for the second week. The quicker it was, the better after all the trials and tribulations of the first two rounds.
“Obviously any match you play, the quicker you get it done, the better,” he said, “especially in these events when the best of five, it can go long. So it was nice to win quickly; it gives me a chance to kind of recover from the first few days, which is good.
“But I did feel a bit better on the court today than I did the first couple of days. I know it’s a different match, different game style, but I felt a little bit better, which is good.”
He also gave a hint as to what went wrong against Bourgue on Wednesday: he did not have a stomach upset as such but every time he swigged some water, it threatened to come straight back up again. He was not ill, but he was not feeling at his brightest and best.
There was none of that yesterday. From first ball to last, Murray was fired up for the fight. He was not particularly demonstrative but there were just enough fist pumps to his box and roars to himself to come on (with the odd expletive thrown in for good measure) to show that he was switched on as soon as he stepped on the court. Compared to his first two matches in Paris, this was a major cause for celebration.
“I think today, a lot of it comes down to sort of sharpness and explosiveness,” Murray said. “Today from the beginning of the match, I got off to a quick start. Obviously if the serve is going well, and if you’re getting good looks on returns against Ivo, then there is a good chance moving forward that I will be getting good looks on other players’ serves. That was positive for me.
“I didn’t really have any lapses today which in a match when there is not so much rhythm and even though it probably doesn’t seem like it from watching in the stands, you know every time you go up to serve, there is a little bit extra pressure because he’s such a hard guy to break. Didn’t give him any break points opportunities. Very few unforced errors. There was a lot of positives from today’s match.”
He will need all those positives on Sunday when he takes on the slightly smaller but considerably better serving machine in John Isner. An inch shorter than Karlovic at 6ft 10in, he has more to his game than the Croat. Yesterday, despite the taping around his left knee, he looked pretty impressive for the three hours and seven minutes it took him to beat Teymuraz Gabashvili 7-6, 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.
“John plays a bit more from the baseline, a bit more consistent from the back of the court,” Murray explained. “He doesn’t volley as well [as Karlovic]. So, yeah, I mean, they’re obviously both two big guys with great serves, but they are quite different, really, in the way that they play and the way they hit the ball.
“Ivo obviously uses predominantly slice off his backhand. John doesn’t use the slice as much. John’s maybe a bit more patient from the back of the court. Ivo, when he gets a forehand he tries to finish the point immediately. So quite different game styles, even though they are both big guys.”
What is much the same, though, is Murray’s record against both men – he has never lost to either of them and has a 5-0 record against Isner. In fact, he has now beaten 24 of the last 25 men he has faced who stand 6ft 4in or taller. With that sort of record behind him, Murray will be hoping that the bigger they come, the harder they fall.