Murray has momentum, time on his side
In a match reminiscent of Roger Federer’s turnaround victory over Nikolay Davydenko the day before, Andy Murray recovered from a first-set hammering at the hands of Marin Cilic to beat the young Croat 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 and reach the second Grand Slam final of his career.
If the first set hung on a lucky Croatian net cord, which dropped dead over the net and prevented Murray from breaking back in the sixth game, just one point in the fifth game of the second set swung the match around and allowed the Scot to climb into the driving seat.
For a split second it seemed that Cilic would gain the benefit of another ball catching the tape as his return fell into Murray’s court. But turning on the after burners, Andy flew in, dug out a low volley inches from the ground and played another volley. Then when Cilic threw up a great, deep lob, Murray turned and chased it down. He not only got there, but swiveled with perfect balance and hit a screaming forehand down the line for a clean winner.
“It is actually a shot I try quite a lot in practice,” he told Jim Courier in his on-court interview, smiling at his coaching staff of Miles Maclagen and Jez Green. Practice obviously makes perfect.
It was just the shot of adrenalin Murray needed, because he had been outplayed in the first set in much the same way that the 6-foot-6 Cilic had outplayed him while winning in straight sets at last year’s U.S. Open. At the start, Cilic was utilizing his big serve to great effect, winning 82 percent of the points off it and was creating great angles with his whippy forehand, taking Murray out of the point.
The difference on first service points as the match wore on was considerable and probably decisive. Cilic’s ratio fell to 72 percent, 68 percent and 53 percent as the sets rolled by while Murray’s rose to 80, 76 and 90 percent.
A lot of this had to do with fatigue. Cilic had played three five setters -- including the 4:38 marathon against Juan Martin del Potro -- on his way to his first Grand Slam semifinal while Murray had won all five of his matches in straight sets.
“I wouldn’t put my tiredness as an excuse for losing this match,” Cilic said. “I think he deserved to win. He can read the game easy. He can serve well. Very good overall and not easy to play, especially on hard courts.”
Maybe Cilic was thinking wistfully of the very first time these two met, as juniors at the French Open on the red clay that was much more familiar to the Croat at the time. Cilic won handily on that occasion -- the start of a rivalry that promises to become a feature of the men’s tour in the years ahead.
In his press conference, Murray was soon talking about the point of the match. “Yeah, I mean it was really important because I don’t want to say the match was slipping away from me, but the momentum was definitely with him. At the beginning of the match I created more of the chances, I think, but I didn’t take them. He played some really aggressive tennis and was putting me under a lot of pressure. But, yeah, that shot made a big difference.”
It wasn’t the only one to bring the crowd to its feet. There were several trademark Murray angled cross-court winners off the forehand. But, in the very last game, he excelled even by his own high standards when he charged after a wide forehand and whipped the ball back, low and fast, between the net post and the umpire’s chair for a winner. It was an emphatic punctuation mark to what turned into a great performance from the 22-year-old Scot.
Murray becomes the first British player to reach the final of the Australian Open since John Lloyd, currently Britain’s Davis Cup captain, in 1977. Jimmy Connors was No 1 in the world that year but, like Bjorn Borg and a few other top players, did not always make the journey Down Under. Vitas Gerulaitis was the eventual winner, beating Lloyd, who was seeded 12th, in five sets.
Now Murray will have two days rest as he waits to find out who his opposition will be on Sunday -- either Roger Federer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. That is something of a luxury. When he reached his only other Slam final at Flushing Meadows in 2008, Murray was forced to play the quarters, semis and final on successive days because of rain delays and the U.S. Open policy of playing both semifinals the day before the final.
“It’s nice,” he said. “I’m happy to have days off. Just got to make sure I practice properly, practice enough. Like I said, last time I played three days in a row. This way works out much better, I think.”