French Open: Andy Murray beginning to find his top form
The milestones are mounting up: his 650th match win, his seventh Roland Garros quarter-final and his 23rd grand slam quarter-final in his last 25 major tournaments played. Andy Murray is starting to turn heads again.
The world No 1 moved purposefully into the last eight of the French Open, disposing of Karen Khachanov 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 and looking every inch the player with his sights focused on the sharp end of the tournament.
After half a year spent in the doldrums, Murray is back in business: confident, relaxed and playing well.
Authoritative with the racket in his hand, he was statesmanlike with the microphone. Fabrice Santoro had asked Murray if he would mind talking about the London terror attacks in his on-court interview after the match.
When the moment came, Murray took the mic, ignored the tennis and asked everyone to join with him in sending their thoughts and prayers to those in London, Manchester, Paris and everywhere in the world who had been affected by the terrorist atrocities of recent months and years.
Murray, then, was back to his best in every respect.
“I’m happy with where my game’s at,” he said. “Everything is going pretty well just now. I’m feeling good going into the middle part of the second week.
“Today was probably the best I have played overall. It was difficult conditions. It was pretty windy out there. Wasn’t easy. But each match I feel like I’ve played better. I have hit the ball cleaner and started to see the right shots at the right moments. I’ve come a long way the last ten days or so.”
His transformation over the past couple of weeks has not gone unnoticed. John McEnroe and Goran Ivanisevic, in town for the legends’ event and a little light television work, have both been impressed by the Scot’s rapid improvement.
“He has found himself,” Ivanisevic said. “He has found himself in the right moment – when you’re the top seed, last year’s finalist and you want to win.
“I saw him today. He played very well. He’s playing better and better. Now all the things are possible. Anybody can win. You have Lendl in your team, the guy has so much experience. Andy knows what he has to do. Sometimes you can play so bad before a grand slam, but the grand slam comes and you win somehow, and you don’t know why. He is in form at the right moment and he is playing better and better every round.”
McEnroe, too, was full of praise for the No 1, although he is not so sure that Murray was so far below his peak when he arrived in Paris.
“I think Andy’s been great,” McEnroe said. “The top four guys will probably be in the semi-finals. I don’t think he was as far away as people were saying. It’s a lot of attitude. He’s tougher to beat in the slams. The draw looked fairly tough in the beginning but now you would have to say you would be somewhat surprised if he didn’t get at least to the semis, if not the final.”
Murray is not making any claims in that direction but he is certainly pleased with the way he defused the firepower of Khachanov. The 21-year-old Russian is a big and powerful man and he likes to flex his muscles whenever he can. But he is inexperienced and, for all that he tried to keep Murray far behind the baseline, he could do nothing when the Scot would spot his chance, turn his impenetrable defence into attack and turn the point around.
In the first set, Murray dropped just five points on serve and made only one unforced error. Over the course of two hours and four minutes, he kept his first- serve accuracy at a healthy 65 per cent, he hit 29 winners and made a miserly 14 errors. Murray was very good indeed.
Save for a slightly sloppy game in the third set and a handful of decent returns from the Russian in the second, both of which cost Murray his serve, he left Khachanov to play catch-up. And when he did drop serve, Murray broke back immediately to regain control of proceedings.
“Just now I’m quite clear with what I’m doing,” Murray said. “Third set, I didn’t play a good game and reset pretty quickly and played some really good points the following game to get the break back and serve it out. That’s another thing that’s been positive the last couple of matches.”
With his confidence growing and his form moving towards its peak, Murray will take on Kei Nishikori tomorrow for a place in the semi-finals. The Japanese likes the clay, he is fleet of foot and solid off both wings but he has lost eight of their 10 previous meetings. He did win their quarter-final at the US Open but Murray was running on empty by that stage of the summer.
Murray is feeling a good deal better now.