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Australian Open 2012: Smiling Andy Murray glides into last 16

Andy Murray cruises into the fourth round of the Australian Open with a 6-4 6-2 6-0 win over Michael Llodra in Melbourne

Marianne Bevis
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Andy Murray is aiming to reach his third straight Australian Open finalPA Photos

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“No-one wants to hear me talk: I’m a bit dull!” So said Andy Murray to the 10,000 cheering spectators who had just enjoyed 100 minutes of exhibition-style tennis against Michael Llodra on Hisense Arena.

He and his tennis were, in the view of most fans around the world, anything but dull. Because, as he added in his witty on-court interview: “It was a fun, fun tennis match, which is not usual at a Grand Slam.”

In fairness, the result of the match was never really in doubt even before the two men took to court. Barring injury or accident, Llodra, the 31-year-old serve-and-volley stylist, was unlikely to upset the confident Murray who has turned up at the Australian Open this year.

Renowned for his sense of humour, too, the Frenchman can rattle a few cages with his attacking, varied shot-making, a sweet left-handed kicker serve and a single-handed backhand volley to make the heart sing.

But he came into this contest with two big matches in his body, the first a four-setter over Ernests Gulbis, the second a five-set battle against No32 seed, Alex Bogomolov Jr. Add in two doubles victories—he is No3 seed with Nenad Zimonjic—and the odds were never in his favour.

But right from the off, Llodra proved that his old-fashioned game of leftie serve and volley, chip and charge, slice and smash demand full concentration.

Although Murray broke Llodra’s first service game to take 2-0 lead, he then faced break points on his next three service games. He was able to produce a big serve reply each time but came under pressure again when serving for the first set at 5-4. Although Murray went 40-0 up, Llodra upped the attack, rushing the net and forcing Murray on every shot to level at deuce.

But not for the first time, Murray quickly took the initiative back with a leaf out of Llodra’s book: He too served and volleyed and, when the Frenchman did race to the net, Murray zipped a backhand winner past him.

Murray needed to be aggressive and the stats showed he was just that: 74 percent of first serves, 18 winners to just 7 errors and a healthy eight winners from 10 net approaches.

The second set was even more impressive. Murray, always a strong returner, began to read the swinging Llodra serve better and stepped inside the baseline not just to receive serve but on every possible point. He picked off backhand winners across the advancing Frenchman at will and again broke straight away.

Llodra is not a player to back off, though, and he continued to rush the net, reach for ever-wider balls and try more difficult shots. But Murray was getting a better read on Llodra’s short touch volleys and chased down almost everything thrown at him. It made for some thrilling exchanges at the net, both finding the acutest of angles and the most demanding of lobs.

Murray soon had a further boost as Llodra sought the attention of the trainer to strap up his left knee. The Frenchman still managed to fend off break points in fifth the game but was broken in the seventh: Murray served for the set at 5-2.

And here, the match peaked in its entertainment value. The tennis was nothing short of spectacular from both men, a feast of angled volley exchanges, round-the-post winners and lob chase-downs that had Llodra outside the court boundaries and Murray literally head-over-heels on the court.

Neither could keep the smiles from their faces but Llodra knew the game was up: He tossed his towel at Murray’s feet as he went to his chair, two sets adrift.

The exhibition tennis lasted right through the third set, too, but Murray had his man on a piece of string: 23 minutes was all it took to finish off the Frenchman, 6-0.

The fun, though, was not over yet. The crowd roared their approval at the departing Llodra and were then bowled over by Murray’s comments. He may have been caught on the hop at being asked for his pick between the two Middleton sisters—Pippa, since you ask—but he may also live to regret his response when asked how he would spend the rest of the evening: “Rest? Watch a movie?” In the kind of dead-pan voice that only Murray can deliver, he retorted: “I’m going to go out and get hammered!”

He may well do just that to escape the watchful eye of Ivan Lendl who, apparently, “goes to bed early.” But Murray probably won’t lose too much sleep over his fourth-round match against Mikhail Kukushkin, who beat Gael Monfils not long before Murray was finishing off on Hisense. The 92-ranked man from Kazakhstan took twice the time to complete his five-set match having already taken four hours to beat Viktor Troicki in Round Two.

But thereafter, Murray will need all the accuracy, pace and concentration he found against Llodra—and more. The quarterfinals threaten former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who continued his quiet progress in three sets and an hour and a half over Frederico Gil. It takes Tsonga’s winning streak to eight matches.

If Murray passes that test, the task becomes even more formidable. It’s hard to see anyone but Novak Djokovic waiting in the semifinals as the Serb continues to make serene progress with the minimum of effort. He handed an injured Nicolas Mahut the worst possible birthday present, a 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 defeat in only 74 minutes.

Djokovic thus reaches the fourth round for the loss of only 10 games in nine sets of near-flawless tennis. Confidence breeds confidence and Djokovic is riding his like a man possessed.

He, like Murray, has yet to face a seed and, also like Murray, may reach the quarters without doing so: His next opponent will be either Lleyton Hewitt or No23 seed Milos Raonic. Beyond that, he will face a seed, either No17 Richard Gasquet, who beat No9 Janko Tipsarevic in straight sets, or No5 David Ferrer, who beat No27 seed Juan Ignacio Chela, also in straight sets.

But all those challenges lie in the future. For now, Murray can bathe in the glow of one of the most entertaining matches yet played in this centenary Australian Open—and presumably enjoy one or two tinnies while he’s at it.

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