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Murray in control for now at Aussie
Andy Murray is by no means in control of his half of the draw at the Australian Open, as the master conductor Rafael Nadal must be conceded that role, but the Scot is certainly in control of his quarter. And after his 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Illya Marchenko, he sure looks like a solid bet to reach the semifinals and potentially earn himself a third matchup with the great Spaniard Down Under.
Murray was playing in the raucous Margaret Court Arena, in front of a large crowd of Brits, some who were holdovers from the wildly popular Ashes cricket test between the English and Australia last week. Others fled the Northern European cold in search of the highest level tennis being played on the planet.
What they saw was Murray catching fire early and fanning his own flames late in smoking out his overmatched foe.
“The atmosphere on that court is great,” Murray said. “It's one of the best in tennis I think. Davis Cup crowds aside, for a Slam, the atmosphere on that court is probably one of the most fun to play in because everyone gets into it. There was a lot of Brits supporting. It did feel like a Davis Cup match, which is nice. It definitely helps.”
There didn't seem to be anything Murray couldn't do with the ball on a crisp and clear evening. He served big, crushed his two-handed backhand every which way, rolled forehands, leaped on returns and cleanly punched away volleys at the net. He finished the match with 31 winners (which included 16 aces) and only 15 unforced errors. He was never really challenged, but was charitable to his foe.
“There were parts of the match that were tight,” the 23-year-old said. “Obviously the beginning of the second he started well. I was a little bit tentative. But I played well. A lot of the close games, a lot of 30-all games, deuce games, and I served well when I needed to, really. That was the difference.”
Last year, after he dropped a tearful Australian Open final to Roger Federer, Murray went into a bit of slump and he was up and down the rest of the year, brilliant in winning hard-court Masters Series titles at Toronto and Shanghai and underwhelming in losses to Tomas Berdych, Nadal and Stan Wawrinka at the last three majors of the year.
But he appeared to pick up steam and regain confidence in the season-ending ATP Finals, where he nearly took out Nadal in one of the most well-played, exciting matches of the year, falling in a third-set tiebreak in the semis.
Murray's quarter is not incredibly simple, but it will be pretty shocking if he doesn't reach the final eight. He'll face the big-serving, yet limited Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the third round, and in the fourth round, his foe could be either the talented, yet erratic 11th seed Juergen Melzer, or the hard-to-figure out Marcos Baghdatis, who ended 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro's comeback 6-2, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
Then a truly stiff test may come against the red-hot No. 4 Robin Soderling in the quarters.
Murray is still young, but tennis can age a player, especially when he's from a nation starved for Grand Slam titles. He's hoping that this time around if he reaches the final stages of the tournament, that he won't panic like he did against Federer last year.
“Experience obviously helps,” he said. “I played quite a lot of big matches last year. I went through some very tough patches last year, as well, especially after the Aussie Open. That was something I had to come back from and I learned from. So I think mentally, I'm probably in a better place. Physically I've worked hard again, so I should be good. In terms of my game, I work on things a lot in practice, things that are hopefully going to improve my game. Then you just need to go out there and try to put them into the matches when you get the chance to.”
Nadal destroyed American Ryan Sweeting 6-2, 6-1, 6-1. Sweeting has a good return but one of the softest first serves for a 6-foot-5 guy in history. Nadal next plays another tall guy, Aussie teen Bernard Tomic, who weaved his way past Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3), 6-3. Tomic has an amazingly deceptive game for his age but it's nearly impossible to softball Nadal on his forehand side and Tomic's back will be firmly against the wall . . . Towering American John Isner is through to the third round and will play another tall and capable player, Marin Cilic, who reached the semis last year . . . Playing nearly five hours against Lleyton Hewitt was the near death of David Nalbandian, who cited dizziness in retiring down 6-1, 6-0, 2-0 to the 20-year-old Richard Berankis.
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