IT had been billed as one of the spectacles of the weekend: Andy Murray and his newly discovered clay court wizardry against the showboating, rising star Nick Kyrgios.
But after 40 minutes of fireworks, the match turned into a damp squib – Murray was safely through to the fourth round and the injured Kyrgios was heartbroken.
In the matches I played against him, I feel like I have done a good job of weathering the storms during the matches. He always has some periods in matches where he’s on fire and hits some unbelievable shots but I just try to stay solid throughout and make it difficult.Andy Murray
For the best part of a set, Kyrgios was doing just what was expected of him. There were thumping winners, trick shots, dinks, “tweeners” and all manner of problems for Murray to sort out. And then, as the first set came to a close, the Kyrgios serve stuttered. At a set and a break down the joie had gone out of the Australian’s vivre, at a set and two breaks down, he was being strapped up by the trainer and as Murray served out the second set, Kyrgios announced to anyone who cared to listen, “I don’t give two s**ts about this”. Meanwhile, Murray was cruising to a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win.
A nerve problem in his right elbow had dogged the world No.30 on his way into Roland Garros and had forced him to pull out of a match in Nice the week before the French Open. As the trainer tried to do some running repairs in the second set, Kyrgios told him: “I can’t serve. The forehand is OK but I can’t serve. Every time, I’m just rolling it in.” And against one of the best returners in the game, that was a recipe for disaster.
“At the beginning of the match he was serving big, over 200 kilometres an hour [124mph],” Murray said. “Then he started slowing down to 170, 180, [105, 111mph] and not really going for aces. The rest of the game he was still hitting huge shots. It wasn’t obviously affecting him loads because he smashed a couple of balls pretty far out of the stadium. But on the overhead clearly he was struggling there, and that was obviously to my benefit.”
After being offered a break of serve on a plate when Kyrgios served a double fault, Murray immediately handed it back with a double fault of his own on break point. That riled the Scot and led to a fair amount of effing and blinding, but the point was that Murray knew he had to keep a lid of the Australian right from the start. In that respect, he played a blinder yesterday. Kyrgios could entertain the crowd all he liked with the occasional outrageous winner, but Murray was not going to let him dominate the match.
“You just have to be kind of on your toes at all times and just try to be ready for something different, really,” Murray said. “In the matches I played against him, I feel like I have done a good job of weathering the storms during the matches that – he always has some periods in the matches where he’s on fire and hits some unbelievable shots. But I just try to stay solid throughout and make it difficult for them.”
Sheer bad luck and that aching elbow was already making life difficult for the Australian. Murray’s experience and game plan were just compounding the problem. Without a serve, Kyrgios knew he did not stand a chance.
“You can see for yourselves on the stats: I’m not serving anywhere near the pace I usually serve,” Kyrgios said. “It’s heart-breaking, really. Murray, I think he’s one of the best defenders of the game at the moment. Today I wasn’t near 100 per cent. Not to take anything from him. He played unbelievable. I don’t think he served well, but he made a lot of returns and he just does what he does best: that’s make a lot of balls and mix up the game. He was too good.”
By the end of the third set, Murray was very good indeed. He was through to the second week of the tournament, he had only spent a couple of hours on court and he had plenty of fuel left in the tank for what is still to come – Jeremy Chardy, the world No.45 from France, tomorrow.
Murray has played Chardy seven times before and only lost once – and that result does not really count. It was back in 2012, just two weeks after the Scot had won his Olympic gold medal and rather than give himself a break to take in the Olympic experience, he honoured his commitments to the tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati but regretted it the minute he got there. He was physically exhausted and emotionally spent – and Chardy took full advantage to beat the Scot in Cincinnati.
But when Murray was tired and drained in Rome a couple of weeks ago, he was still strong enough to beat the Frenchman in straight sets in his opening match.
The thought of Murray against Chardy may not get the pulses racing in the way that Murray against Kyrgios did, but in the end, the result may be exactly the same.