Murray crushes Soderling in London
Andy Murray kick-started the ATP World Tour Finals with a brilliant display against Robin Soderling on Sunday, crushing the man who had just usurped his No 4 position in the world ranking with a 6-2, 6-4 victory in round-robin play.
Soderling, an indoor expert, came to London fresh from winning the ATP Masters 1000 title in Paris and had beaten Murray 6-1, 7-6 in their previous meeting, in March at Indian Wells.
But these were different circumstances, and the big Swede found himself facing a far cannier opponent.
“I played very smart tennis today,” said Murray, who benefited from the vociferous support of a capacity crowd of 17,500 at the 02 Arena in London’s Docklands. “I moved well and the slice worked well. I didn’t always go for the lines on the pass. I hit a lot down to his feet and just made him play a lot of uncomfortable shots.”
That was the crux of the match. At 6-feet-4, Soderling has a long way down to reach his shoelaces, and that’s where he found himself searching for the ball whenever he was drawn into the net, as the Scot put vicious underspin on his backhand returns.
Soderling acknowledged that in the beginning, “I just wasn’t there,” and although he upped his game in the second set, Murray used his speed and great defensive abilities to prevent his opponent from gaining a foothold in the match.
Because this unique ATP event uses the round-robin format through Friday, the severity of Murray’s victory is important to the British No 1. Last year he missed out by some fractions of a mathematical equation on the basis of games and sets won and lost because both the matches he won had taken three sets. That meant he failed to finish either one or two in his group, and so he did not make the knockout semifinals.
With this straight-sets win under his belt, Murray should not have that problem again should he succeed in winning either of his next two matches against Roger Federer or David Ferrer.
After Murray’s victory, fans were treated to a reminder that, even though pro tennis has developed into a hard-nosed individualistic sport, there is still room for sentiment.
A few weeks ago, Carlos Moya, who won the French Open and was briefly No 1 in the world, announced his retirement after a 15-year career. So the ATP offered a farewell ceremony for the popular Spaniard on Sunday, and the large majority of spectators who stayed witnessed most of the players competing in this year-end event appear on court to give Moya a proper sendoff.
Rafael Nadal made a speech, both in English and Spanish, and expressed his admiration for his fellow Majorcan, who had first started hitting with Rafa when he was 11.
Later, Moya spoke about the world No 1: “Knowing him for so long makes it special for me. He’s one of the greatest ever. Seeing how he’s evolving and improving, even winning Wimbledon, which for a Spanish player is…well, there’s no way to do that. He did it, not only once but twice.”
Asked how he helped Nadal in the early years, Moya downplayed the notion.
“You don’t need to show anything to Rafa. He can find his own way. The same way I help him, he help me. When he was 13, 14 years old we were practicing together. I was near the top 10. And sometimes he was beating me. You see a kid like this kicking your ass and you try to avoid that.
“So he made me improve. He made me be more positive. So I cannot say that Rafa owes me anything at all.”
In the evening session, Roger Federer had to work marginally harder than Murray to secure his victory over the Spanish baseline expert David Ferrer. The score was 6-1, 6-4, but Federer felt that was misleading.
"It was a tough match," he said. "The score doesn't reflect that. Starting with a feisty top-10 player is never easy."
Federer is in Murray's group, and the pair will meet on Tuesday afternoon for the first time since the Scot beat Federer in the final of the Masters 1000 event in Shanghai last month.