Murray reached his fifth major final last night with a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 win over Tomas Berdych, putting on another display of controlled aggression to cope with a powerful opponent and desperately difficult conditions. If he can do that again tonight, Lendl is ready to party.
“Andy enjoys Manhattan, I know that,” Lendl said. “I don’t. I’m staying out in the country. I was at home last night and I’m deciding what I’m going to do tonight.
“I have not been to Manhattan since March. It’s too busy for me, it’s not for me. I like it quiet. I only go there when I have to but I will be happy to go there Sunday to celebrate. Other than that, forget it.”
But if Murray can fend of the big and powerful Berdych and do so in the most miserable of conditions, forcing Lendl out on the dance floor tonight looks distinctly possible.
Yesterday’s match was delayed by more than an hour as a weather front moved in a drenched the eastern seaboard. And once the rain had finished bucketing down, the conditions left behind were truly dreadful: high humidity and a strong and gusting wind. Worse still: a tornado warning was issued and the twister touched down just three miles from Flushing Meadows. This was no day to be playing high-pressure tennis matches.
With no way of predicting which way the wind would blow next, both men were racking up the unforced errors, although Berdych did seem to rather more efficient in this department and was notching up the fluffs twice as fast as his rival in the opening set.
From time to time, the wind would pick up even more making serving nigh on impossible and then, in the space of a second, it would die back again and there would be a few moments of respite. The flag at the top of the stadium – no American sporting venue is complete without the Stars and Stripes – was billowing in one direction while down on the court, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction. It was obvious that this semi-final was going to be as much a test of each man’s patience as of the ability to hit a decent forehand.
Time and again, the play had to be stopped as carrier bags, paper napkins and assorted detritus swirled above the court. At one point, Murray went to hit his first serve only to be stopped in mid-shot as Berdych’s chair was blown on to the court, spilling his racket bag and towels across the playing surface.
Still, it was Murray who seemed to be settling to his task the better.
He took the early lead, broke Berdych’s serve for a 2-1 lead and was happily trying to consolidate that advantage when his hat blew off. At the time, he had just nipped towards the net to play a drop shot, one that Berdych had absolutely no hope of reaching, and the ball went dead, the umpire Pascal Maria, called the score – deuce. Murray had saved a break point.
But a split second after the ball left his racket, Murray’s hat flew off and Berdych immediately appealed to Maria.
“In my opinion...” Maria began before Berdych interrupted him: “What kind of opinion can you have?” the Czech asked. Murray, sportingly, admitted that his hat had, indeed, fallen off and asked Berdych if the incident had been a distraction. If it had been, Murray was willing to replay the point but only if the hat had broken Berdych’s concentration. “Are you 100 per cent sure?” Murray kept asking, but Berdych never replied. The point was replayed, Murray lost it and with it, he lost his serve. Suddenly he was back to square one.
In theory, the conditions ought to have been worse for Berdych than Murray. The big man’s power game is impressive when it works, but he leaves himself very little margin for error. And with a service action that attempts to launch the ball into orbit before he hits it, the wind should have been playing havoc with the Czech’s chances. Yet it was Murray who was being too cautious and, after 77 minutes, it was Murray who was a set down. Murray seemed to be caught in two minds – should he play to the conditions or should he just play? For the first set, he was too cautious but when that tactic failed to deliver results, he engaged the brain, played smart and began to dismantle Berdych’s defences. As soon as he did that, the mentally fragile Czech started to crumble.
Berdych has only one game plan – welt the ball and paste the lines – and when that does not work, he has nothing to fall back on. As the Scot took the second set and started to make inroads into Berdych’s serve at the start of the third, Berdych just smiled. He had no idea how to cope with the conditions and he had no clue how to stop Murray from reaching the final.
Freed of his earlier doubts, Murray was playing like a man with his eyes on the title while Berdych just chucked in the towel. By the end of four sets and almost four hours hours in a howling gale, Murray had committed just 21 unforced errors. This was impressive stuff – now he needs to repeat the performance in tonight’s final and, at last, a grand slam trophy will be his.
“A major final is fun; it’s a lot of fun,” Lendl said. “You feel nervous, obviously. If you didn’t feel nervous you’d think there was something wrong. But you have to enjoy being nervous because it’s a privilege.
“You work very hard to get there and so not to be nervous, or to be afraid of being nervous is a mistake. Once you start enjoying it, that’s when you can play well. I think he is ready to go and win.”