When Andy Murray woke up yesterday morning, he was exhausted. The events of the previous 48 hours had drained him and the last thing on his mind was a fourth-round match at the Australian Open.
The shock of hearing that Nigel Sears, his father-in-law, had collapsed on Saturday night and had had to be rushed to hospital was draining enough but the to-ing and fro-ing from the hospital to the practice courts, the fears for Sears’ health and the overwhelming concern for his pregnant wife back at home, 11,000 miles away, was sapping him of energy.
Only when he knew that Sears was well enough to fly home did Murray turn his attentions to his day job.
Even then, he was ready to walk away from the courts and go home to take care of his family. But he stayed and, having made the decision to play, he delved into his reserves of strength, stamina and experience and beat Bernard Tomic 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 to reach the quarter-finals.
“When I woke up I felt quite drained, quite tired,” he said. “As the day went on and I decided to play, I started to focus a little bit better. But definitely on the court tonight, I was more emotional than normal. I was talking to myself after every single point almost from the first point till the last, which was obviously not ideal.
“That uses up a lot of energy. Again, just that makes you sort of more kind of up and down throughout the match, as well.
“Certainly I was trying to just concentrate on the match when I was out there but it’s been a hard, hard few days. Hopefully it gets better in the next few days.
“I just can’t believe something like that happened a few days ago. It’s shocking. Nige is an unbelievably fit guy. Very, very scary.”
In that frame of mind, Tomic is one of the last players who Murray would have wanted see across the net.
The Australian, ranked No 17 in the world, is talented, powerful and deceptive. He also had home advantage with the crowd behind him and after a decent start to the year, his confidence was riding high. Not that it mattered.
Murray did what he had to do to secure his place in the last eight. The flurry of dropped service games in the first set and at the start of the second seemed to focus his mind: he may have been frustrated and annoyed but he knuckled down and got back to work. But even if he was having to sweat for his win, he always looked as if he was going get there in the end.
“I didn’t think we played the best match tonight,” Murray said. “I think both of us were a little bit up and down today. I think both of us could play a bit better than that. But I thought I moved well tonight. I thought I served pretty well. I definitely returned well, made him play a lot on his service games.
“There were a few more mistakes from the back of the court than usual I think from both of us. Maybe that can be down to the way we both play, as well. We have a similar game in that we change the pace of the ball a lot. Bernie hits the ball pretty flat, can generate pace. It’s very difficult to read his forehand as well. He’s not an easy guy to play against.”
In the circumstances, it was a good job, well done. The very fact that he was able to come through such a test only hours after deciding to play at all boded well for the future rounds. From now on, the tournament heats up and the pressure mounts so knowing that he can play as well as he did yesterday, despite all the worries and concerns of the weekend, did seem to cheer him up.
“The fact that I was able to handle everything that has happened the last few days is a good sign, he said. “I wasn’t perfect today – far from it – and I didn’t expect to be before I went on the court. I did show a lot of emotion and was very expressive on the court, animated from almost the first point of the match, the first game of the match. And I expected to feel that way. But I think in the next few days I will definitely be a lot calmer. I’ll get some good rest in and I think I will be fine now.”
He will need to rest up, too, as now he faces David Ferrer, the human dynamo, who beat John Isner 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 yesterday. At 33, Ferrer is still as fit as a fiddle and can run from dawn until dusk but all that effort has still only earned him six wins over the Scot in 18 meetings. Just as against Tomic, the match will be determined by Murray’s state of mind. If the news from home remains calm and positive, Murray’s dream of a first Australian Open title remains within reach.