Murray Mixes Mediocrity with Magic as he Advances to Grand Slam Final #3
Late on Friday evening in Melbourne (Friday morning for English viewers), Andy Murray booked his place in the final of the Men’s Australian Open – his third Grand Slam final appearance – with a triumph over four sets against Spaniard David Ferrer (4-6, 7-6, 6-1, 7-6). But boy did the Scot have to work for it…
Murray undoubtedly infuriated himself, his support staff, and his fans alike with a catalogue of unforced errors that at times left the watching audience wondering if they were watching Tim Henman in any of his latter stage appearances at Wimbledon over the years. Indeed, seventh-seed Ferrer – having already encountered an injured Rafael Nadal in his quarter-final, and having seen Novak Djokovic dispose of Roger Federer on the other side of the draw – could have been excused for thinking that his Christmas had come early (or late?) as Murray handed him point after point with an array of careless unforced errors; some went wide, some went long, and several went straight into the net.
The early stages of the first set proved a cagey affair, with Ferrer happy to sit back and absorb the Scot’s attempted early pressure. Murray – currently ranked #5 in the world – showed the occasional flash of brilliance, but it was all too frequently preceded and followed by a number of errant shots. It was suggested by the commentators that Murray was simply feeling his way into the encounter, and one got the feeling that as soon as the Scot could eliminate the unusually high number of unforced errors from his game, he would be well placed to claim the match. Indeed, when the Scot finally put together a composed game on Ferrer’s serve (at 3-3), he duly broke.
However, Ferrer was to break back immediately, and then break once further to claim the first set (4-6), much to Murray’s chagrin. The Scot’s service game – so consistent and key to his dominant progress through the first four rounds of this competition – deserted him as his first serve percentage dropped from a tournament average of 75% to just 59% by the end of the first set. The 23-year-old from Dunblane cut a forlorn and frustrated figure towards the opening set’s conclusion, frequently chuntering away under his breath and splurging expletives in to the Melbourne night.
In fairness, Ferrer had upped his game somewhat, imparting ever increasing amounts of aggression on his baseline shots and chasing down all that the Scot could throw at him (afterwards Murray hailed the Spaniard as ‘an unbelievable athlete’). However, it was Murray’s strange lack of accuracy and the desertion of his first serve that had been the more influential factor on the game to this point. This being Murray’s first evening match of the tournament – meaning lower temperatures and a slower court speed – undoubtedly played a significant role in why the Scot turned in such an erratic performance, going through his shots early and hitting the net with an unerring frequency.
Into the second set and Murray again looked a shadow of the player that had waltzed through the early rounds at Melbourne. Shorn of confidence from the sheer volume of wayward shots he had been hitting, he ceased attacking the tram lines and became increasingly conservative with his rallying shots, frequently leaving them a couple of feet in from the sides, thereby ceding the advantage to the tireless Spaniard.
Murray had broken early in the second, but Ferrer had broken straight back, and the fifth-seed was duly indebted to several big serves on important points that prevented Ferrer from running away with the second set (and probably the match too). As the set reached the half-way point at 3-3, the statistic which read twenty-five unforced errors from the Scot in the first set and half told its own story.
The world #5 briefly threatened a resumption of normal service as he took Ferrer to deuce halfway through the set before holding with relative ease, but at 4-4 and wanting to pressurise the Spaniard’s serve, Murray hit four more unforced errors to hand Ferrer the momentum and a 4-5 lead, thereby heaping pressure on himself instead. Serving to stay in the set (and the match), and with a desperate lack of conviction to his groundstrokes, Murray hit the net twice and sent one long before displaying commendable resilience in saving a set point and eventually levelling the game at 5-5, albeit in the most unconvincing of fashions.
Remarkably, Murray was to break Ferrer next up to lead 6-5, but at 30-15 whilst serving to win a wholly undeserved second set, and with the point begging to be won, a lack of conviction from the Scot allowed Ferrer back into the rally, a chance the Spaniard took with aplomb. 30-15 became thirty-all, and in the blink of an eye Ferrer had broken back once more to take the set to a tie break.
This proved to be a significant turning point in the encounter. Murray revealed afterwards that he ‘changed racket tension just before the end of the second set,’ which duly allowed him to impart more pace on his shots and negate the slower court conditions the Melbourne evening had offered.
In the tie-break Murray’s class shone through as he finally produced the standard of tennis that has seen him regarded as one of the best in the game over the last few years. The Scot’s shots were accurate and hit with more conviction than before, and he duly pressured the previously unflappable Spaniard into a number of mistakes, racing to a 6-0 lead before eventually sealing the tie-break 7-2. For all Ferrer’s effort and consistency (and, for that matter, Murray’s struggles) over the first two hours, the scoreboard read one set all.
Into the fourth set, and after two relatively solid service games from both players and an elongated further service hold from Murray, the Scot broke Ferrer’s serve with a devastating game of aggressive tennis, attacking the lines with conviction and manoeuvring the Spaniard around the court before unleashing a barrage of clinical winners.
Murray then held with relative ease to lead 4-1 in the third, before breaking Ferrer once more with a mixture of brilliant stroke play and a couple of finely crafted points; the Scot now playing with his customary conviction and accuracy. Murray eventually sealed the third set (6-1) after saving five break points, having hit twelve winners in the set to just four from Ferrer. The most notable statistic from the fourth set read as follows: Unforced errors… Murray 9, Ferrer 25.
Into the fourth set and Murray immediately instigated another clinical break to love on Ferrer’s serve, including one mesmerising back-hand winner up the line whilst on the run. The Scot served well to go 2-0 up and seemed to be marching relentlessly towards the final, before appearing to take his foot off the gas as a number of errors crept back into his game.
Ferrer held serve, broke Murray, and held again to lead 2-3 on serve, prior to Murray producing two stunning winners to light up an otherwise laboured service hold for three-all. The Spanish seventh-seed then held to love before three fiercely contested and attritional service games were played out as the set teetered at five games each. Murray’s higher ranking began to show through once more though, producing three stunning winners as Ferrer was forced to work extremely hard for his 6-5 lead, before the Scot calmly negotiated a potentially tricky service game to take the fourth set to a tie-break.
Into the tie-break and Murray once again dominated, crafting a mini break to lead 3-1 as he moved Ferrer from side to side before forcing a failed return. 3-1 became 4-1 as Murray moved aggressively to the net to dispatch a further break, before an ace off his next serve saw the Scot lead 5-1 at the change of ends. He sealed a 7-2 tie-break victory and the fourth set, and therefore the match, with a deft drop shot which put Ferrer out of position before calmly placing his half-volley into the open court to seal a four-set triumph (4-6, 7-6, 6-1, 7-6).
Murray now faces third-seed Novak Djokovic in the final, and the Serb should provide a far sterner test that Ferrer was able to offer. Although Ferrer more than held his own for large parts of the game, when Murray eventually played to his potential the Scot proved too much for him; Djokovic, however, will be able to compete with even a fully-firing Murray.
Furthermore, although Murray had at times shown glimpses of his prodigious talent – the third set and the two tie-breaks in particular – there were still large swathes of the game where the Scot seemed unable to exert consistent pressure on his Spanish opponent. The unforced errors (all sixty-three of them) which characterised these periods must be eliminated should the Scot wish to stand a chance of ending his quest for a first grand slam title.
Murray also needs to raise his first serve percentage (a lowly 60% against Ferrer) back up to the heights of 70-75% he achieved in the earlier rounds in order to give him the breathing space and respite required to fully attack the Serbian’s serve. The most praiseworthy facet of the Scot’s semi-final appearance was that, despite his erratic display, he still got the job done. And that, essentially, is what counts.
Murray’s performance on Friday was undoubtedly a mixed bag. He fluctuated from the sublime to the downright ragged. To win the Australian Open he will almost certainly need more of the former and less of the latter, because although he might have eventually triumphed in spite of this against Ferrer, one would be very surprised should the same happen against the current world #3, the on-form Novak Djokovic. Even at his best, Murray will have his work cut out; anything less, and that wait for a Grand Slam title will go on just that little bit longer…