Tired, stiff and sore, Andy Murray did not look like a man ready to celebrate but he had plenty to be pleased about.
His 7-6, 3-6, 6-3 win over Richard Gasquet, all two hours and 38 minutes of it, had pushed him into the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris and into the record books. Again. As he moves towards the end of the most consistent season of his career, Murray has now reached the semi-final or better of every Masters Series tournament on the calendar. And only three other men have ever managed such a feat: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Murray was mixing in illustrious company.
“I think consistency doesn’t always get talked about,” Murray said, “but to have performed that well across all of these events is not an easy thing to do. If I’m the fourth player then Rafa, Roger and Novak would be the other ones. You won’t see many other players doing it because it’s an extremely difficult thing to do.
“I’m obviously happy to have done that but it’s not something that will really get talked about. People tend to focus more on wins, winning big events like the Masters series and the Slams. For me it’s a great thing to have achieved. There’s so few people who have done it so it’s good.”
The win also moved him one step closer to securing the end-of-year No.2 ranking which would be his best end-of-season result in his 11 years on the main tour.
The ranking is still on the line following Roger Federer’s shock defeat on Thursday night. With Federer out of the picture, beaten in three sets by John Isner, Murray could secure that No.2 spot for the rest of the season by winning the title in Paris. But after the sinew-snapping effort against Gasquet, that will require a lot of work. Then again, as Gasquet pointed out, it is the Scot’s dogged determination and unerring accuracy that makes him such a difficult player to beat.
“He is never missing,” Gasquet said. “Even if you are winning, as I did in the third set, I know he never miss a return. Always putting the ball in the court, playing very fast from the baseline, serving well. He’s very clever on the court. Fighting so much. It’s Andy Murray.
“I mean, the fight was extremely physical. It was extremely tough. He never gives away anything. Never makes a mistake. He always makes you run. Every time you make him move, he’s able to return the ball. He’s a real fighter.”
To end the year as the second best player has never been on Murray’s bucket list but to ensure that only Djokovic is ahead of him – and so is on the other side of the draw at every event – could help his cause as the new year begins.
“Finishing No.2 would be nice but it’s not a goal of mine at the beginning of the year:’ right let’s get to No.2 this year’,” Murray said. “But it’s just for the Aussie Open, it’s a small benefit to be seeded second. So that’s the really the positive of it rather than me being really pumped to finish the year as No.2. It’s more me looking forward to next year and it might give me a little bit of help at the Aussie Open.”
Back in the present, Murray began the day brightly enough, moving to a 3-0 lead and making Gasquet wait 25 minutes before he could get a game on the board. But with the 17,000 or so Parisians cheering the Frenchman’s name and a brass band bursting into life at every change of ends, Gasquet began to warm up and fight back. He held a set point in the first set – Murray snatched it back – and pushed the Scot with everything he had.
But when Murray, after 74 minutes, took the opening set, it seemed to leave him drained. He could not get a toehold in the second set but then, as Gasquet feared, Murray regrouped in the third set and played with power, precision and sheer bloody-mindedness. It was a good job, well done and, just for good measure, the barracking partisan crowd was giving him was the perfect preparation for the Davis Cup final.
“I think in that atmosphere, with the Davis Cup coming up, is a very positive thing for me to go through that physically and emotionally,” Murray said. “It’s maybe not going to be the same as Davis Cup, but it’s pretty good practice for that. I’m happy I went through a match like that today, physically and mentally. It’s a good one to go through.”
Rest assured, if he wins all his matches in Davis Cup final and brings the trophy home to Britain, he will celebrate long and hard then – no matter how tired, stiff or sore he is.