It NEVER ceases to amaze how quickly life can change in professional sport. Just ten days ago Andy Murray was staring at the draw from hell at the Australian Open – Grigor Dimitrov, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to beat (in that order) if he wanted to get to the final.
Andy Murray bt Nick Kyrgios (Aus) 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 6-3
Yet as he walked on court for yesterday’s quarter-final against Nick Kyrgios, he was a decent bet for the title. Federer was long gone, beaten in the third round, and Nadal was dismissed in three sets by Tomas Berdych yesterday. Murray had done for Dimitrov on Sunday night and now all he had to do was teach Australia’s young hope a swift lesson in life at the top of the game and he would be one step from the final.
That he did in impressive style, winning 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 to silence a patriotic home crowd on a chilly and blustery night at Melbourne Park.
Kyrgios is a talent for the future, Murray is the established star of the present. Against all the experience, knowledge and natural talent that the world No 6 has at his disposal, Kyrgios was always going to struggle.
“I wasn’t thinking about the atmosphere or the crowd, I was just trying to win against Nick,” Murray said calmly.
“It was tough because he has an exceptional serve and makes it very difficult for you when he’s serving. And it was very tricky conditions, as well. So I was quite happy with the way I handled everything tonight.”
For a set, Murray had the young Aussie in lockdown. At 19, Kyrgios is chock full of energy and excitement so Murray kept him waiting. Pausing to wipe his brow with the towel, retie his shoelaces or just take his time to take his position on the return, he kept the eager whippersnapper waiting. It was all perfectly legal and within the allowed time between points but the two-time grand slam champion was making his point: Kyrgios would be marching to Murray beat on this occasion.
And then Murray played. He served with accuracy, disguise and authority. He dropped his opening two service points of the match and then banged down a string of eight unreturnable serves – including a smattering of aces – to win his first two service games. Kyrgios has a serve that could well take him to the very top of the game but Murray had made it clear that his serve was not to be toyed with, either. Kyrgios’ backhand is a weapon of power and accuracy but Murray took that on as well and showed the young man what was in store for him if he tried to mess with that. Then there were the lobs and the passing shots – Murray had every shot in the book and, for all that Kyrgios made a fight of it in the second set, the older, wiser man was always in control.
When, at last, Kyrgios got his first break of serve after nearly two hours of frustration, Murray snatched the break straight back, finding angles and spaces that seemed impossible to reach. Australia was going to have to wait another year for a homegrown champion – Murray was on a mission and nothing was going to stop him reaching the last four.
“For me, tonight it was a tricky one to judge, to say how well I played, because I found the conditions difficult with the breeze,” Murray said. “So I tried to use the conditions to my advantage and played a slightly different style than what I had been in the other matches. I would say the match against Dimitrov was a very high level. It was a clean match. Both of us were striking the ball well. And I’ve made improvements with each of the matches. But then against Kyrgios, I just tried to play the best with what the conditions were allowing you to do, and I think I did that quite well.”
Murray has done everything more than quite well since he got to Melbourne. He is feeling fit and relaxed and his tennis has been getting better with every round. All the worries and frustration of last year are forgotten: his game is aggressive, it is flowing and the old, creative ability to turn defence into attack in an instant is very much in evidence. And he is focused. When he has needed to dig in and battle, he has done it without a frown or a grimace.
“When I’ve been behind, like against Dimitrov in that fourth set and tonight when I got broken or was behind in the tie-break, I’ve been happy with the way I’ve been able to come up with some good shots when I’ve needed them and not get down on myself and come straight back,” Murray said. “I’ve been pretty happy with that so far in the event.
“Obviously the further down the road you get, the better players you play, there’s going to be more times when you might get behind or you might get broken or they might play great tennis for a few games. You need to be able to weather the storm and hopefully come through it. So far it’s been a good sign.”
So now, instead of Nadal, Murray must find a way past Berdych tomorrow if he is to put himself in position to win another major title. The tall Czech has won six of their past ten meetings but, save for one win in Cincinnati in 2013 when Murray’s head was still reeling from winning Wimbledon just weeks before, Berdych has not beaten the Scot on a hard court in four years.
Just to add spice to the encounter, Murray’s great friend and former assistant coach, Dani Vallverdu, is now working with Berdych – Vallverdu knows all Murray’s secrets but, then again, Murray knows everything about Vallverdu, too. “We’ll see how the match plays out and what the tactics are,” Murray said. “But, you know, I also know what Dani thinks of Berdych’s game because he’s told me, so it works both ways.”
On current form, tomorrow’s match is only going one way. Murray means business in Melbourne.
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