THE numbers are mounting up. Tomorrow, Andy Murray will play in his 17th consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final, a run that stretches all the way back to the US Open in 2010.
And as he faces David Ferrer in that quarter-final, he will be trying to win his 15th consecutive clay court match. It is a remarkable run for a man who had back surgery two years ago and who used to regard clay as his weakest surface.
I’m playing against guys that make some of the things I have done look pretty average because of how good they have been.
His 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Jeremy Chardy yesterday pushed Murray up to fourth place in the list of Grand Slam achievers – only Roger Federer with 36 consecutive quarter-final appearances, Jimmy Connors with 27 and Novak Djokovic with 24 are ahead of him. Admittedly, all have won more Grand Slam trophies than Murray, but it shows a stunning level of consistency by the Scot in, arguably, the greatest and most competitive era in the men’s game.
“I don’t think there is loads of players that have done that,” Murray said. “Unfortunately, I’m playing against guys that make some of the things I have done look pretty average because of how good they have been. Roger went through a period where he was making Grand Slam finals pretty much consistently and then he had the semi-final streak [of 23 consecutive appearances]. I know it was ridiculous, as well. Then there was his quarter-final streak. In comparison to that, it’s nothing.
“But, you know, in terms of the history of the game, there are not loads of players that have been that consistent at these events. So, yeah, that’s something that I look at, and I’m very, very proud of. I’m glad I have managed to maintain that consistency even when I’ve had obviously some tough periods over the last couple of years with the injuries and the back.”
To keep his record going, Murray marched purposefully past Jeremy Chardy and the 10,000 partisan Frenchmen and women on the Court Suzanne Lenglen yesterday, taking a little under three hours to claim that 14th clay court victory of the season.
For a set, Murray was very, very good. For a set, Chardy was very, very good. And then for two sets, it was a case of who could take his chances: Chardy was leathering winners from all quarters of the court (and missing by a mile when his timing was out) while Murray was trying to steer the world No 45 in places he did not want to go. For the crowd, it was hugely entertaining; for Murray, frustrating in parts but, by the end of play, the Scot could look back with satisfaction on a job well done.
“It felt, for me, like a high- quality match,” Murray said. “It was, for sure, the best match I have played in this tournament so far. He’s a very tough player. He’s incredibly powerful. He was hitting his backhand down the line very well today and going for some big shots. He made it very difficult for me in all of the sets and I just managed to be a little more solid in the third and fourth sets because it was extremely tight. It was a very tough match.”
For the first 40 minutes, Murray managed to silence the local supporters. He was in total command, committing just two unforced errors in the first set, nailing 72 per cent of his first serves and winning 89 per cent of those first serve points. This was Murray on a mission. But then, in the first game of the second set, he let his rival off the hook.
In a 15-minute game of nine deuces and three break points, he could not break the Chardy serve. Suddenly the Frenchman loosened up. The nerves fell from his racket arm, he took the fight to Murray, took the second set and broke at the start of the third. But Murray, the new clay court specialist, knew he just had to be patient. Chardy is flashy, takes risks and that means chances for Murray to pounce. Over the next two sets, he did just that and finally snuffed out the French challenge.
Tomorrow, he will face a very different challenge in Ferrer. The ever-consistent, fit-as-a-butcher’s-dog Spaniard will run until he drops in pursuit of victory and he is at his happiest on a clay court. Murray leads their rivalry 9-6 but he has never beaten Ferrer on the red dirt and lost to him at Roland Garros in yet another quarter-final in four sets in 2012.
“The higher-ranked players you play, the less opportunities they give you,” Murray said. “The less mistakes they give you, especially in important moments. I’m going to have to work extremely hard in that match and be very patient and try to dictate the play as much as I can.”
If he manages to do that, he will be through to his 15th career Grand Slam semi-final. Those numbers are adding up day by day.