Andy Murray in running to defend Brisbane title

Andy Murray is back where he kicked off his breakthrough 2012

season and his working partnership with Ivan Lendl, only one win

away from successfully defending his title at the Brisbane

International.

The reigning Brisbane, Olympic and U.S. Open champion advanced

to the final when fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori retired with an

injured left knee when trailing 6-4, 2-0 in their semifinal on

Saturday.

Still in his way is Grigor Dimitrov, the 21-year-old Bulgarian

who is starting to live up to his reputation as a

star-in-the-making by reaching his first ATP Tour final with a 6-3,

5-7, 7-6 (5) win over 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos

Baghdatis.

Both Murray and Dimitrov have an eye on the Australian Open,

which starts on Jan. 14, but both are conscious of the early-season

interest in a showdown between a member of the fabulous four and a

player in the up-and-coming group who are determined to break the

domination of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Murray and Rafael

Nadal in the majors.

Murray knows what is at stake Sunday, recalling his first ATP

final against Federer – he lost at Bangkok in 2005 – as an

opportunity to go for his shots with nothing to lose.

The top four men are constantly asked about players who are

capable of being in the next generation of champions. The

25-year-old Murray is now including Dimitrov on his list.

”From my point of view, I hope that there isn’t people coming

through because it means that I’ll be one of the ones that’s losing

out on a spot,” he said, only half joking. ”There are loads of

guys that are very, very tough players, all with different

games.

”Grigor plays with a lot of variety. He can play a lot of

shots. He’s one the few guys coming through that’s got a

single-handed backhand as well, so he uses a lot more slice than

the others.”

Putting them to the test, in the regular tournaments and the

more physically demanding majors, is ”when you’ll find out about

them,” he said.

Murray lost four Grand Slam finals, including consecutive

championships at Melbourne Park in 2010 and `11, but turned that

around after he started last January to work with Lendl, who lost

four major finals before going on to win eight.

A year on from their first practice sessions in Brisbane, Murray

is a Grand Slam winner – ending that 76-year drought for British

men.

He was down 4-1 against No. 5-seeded Nishikori before went on a

roll, winning the next seven games before the Japanese player

called it quits, two games after receiving medical treatment.

”I’m playing OK. A bit up and down,” Murray said. ”I’ve moved

better every single match. Returning could have been better, and my

groundstrokes, with more matches I’ll start it hit them

cleaner.”

Dimitrov, the youngest player in the top 50, has hit form

quickly in 2013 with wins over second-seeded Milos Raonic, the

big-serving Canadian, and seventh-seeded Jurgen Melzer en route to

his first final.

He raced to a 3-0 lead in eight minutes to establish the only

break of the first set and then was up a break in the second before

No. 38-ranked Baghdatis hit back to take the match into a third

set.

Baghdatis saved a breakpoint to force a tiebreaker and then was

stunned when he received a time violation penalty – losing his

first serve – when he was down a mini break. The ATP has modified

its rules for 2013 to make it easier for chair umpires to caution

players about slow play and Baghdatis had already been warned for

taking too long between service points.

He fought back in the tiebreaker but Dimitrov came up with a

stunning backhand that ultimately turned the match.

After reaching semifinals at Queen’s, Bastad and Gstaad in 2012,

Dimitrov switched coaches for the offseason and has been working in

Sweden at an academy run by Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael

Tillstrom. Together, they set a target of reaching the final in the

first week of the season.

”We were actually pretty serious about it, and now that it

happened, I was in the locker room and my coach was like, `Well, I

told you so,”’ he said. ”Definitely every tournament I play of

course I want to be in the final.”

His single-handed backhand and easy-looking mobility around the

court have drawn comparisons with a younger Federer. That doesn’t

feel like a burden to Dimitrov, who says he hasn’t come close to

his potential.

”Weighing me down? What for? No, not at all. Total opposite.

People can judge anyway, right? Again, Roger is Roger; I’m me,” he

said. ”I haven’t won a title yet even though I’m in the

final.”

Dimitrov said he’d concentrated on honing his physical condition

in the offseason because he knows that raw talent will only get him

so far.

”Of course I been showing here and there matches that I played,

well, outrageous tennis, and I’ve had matches where I felt like,

OK, I go on court and everything is on. But you have these matches

four or five times a year,” he said. ”That doesn’t make you any

better player. Talent doesn’t win matches.

”I tried to understand all that quite early, because of course

there are expectations, everyone compares you, whatever, and these

kind of things. But in the end it’s the good part in tennis because

everything is in your hands. You got to do it. If you want to be

out there, you got to go get it from the bottom.”