Andy Murray launches Australian Open campaign with Brisbane title
Andy Murray gets Australian Open campaign off to perfect start with Brisbane title after 6-1 6-3 win over Alexandr Dolgopolov
A news-making week for Andy Murray climaxed in the best possible way””with a 22nd ATP title at the Brisbane International this weekend.
In a departure from his usual preparation for the first Grand Slam of the year””the Australian Open begins in Melbourne in a week’s time””the Scot switched from the Hopman Cup in Perth, where he has played with Laura Robson for last two years, to one of the three ranking events that launch the ATP year.
Among the advantages to follow this change””ranking points among them””has been a visible sharpening of his game through each of the five matches, and in conditions very similar to those he can expect in Melbourne. Having reached and lost the Australian Open final for two years in succession, this more focused preparation looks like a very astute move.
But Murray placed another bigger piece into his planning jigsaw in Brisbane. On the day before the start of the tournament, he announced the appointment of eight-time Grand Slam winner, Ivan Lendl, as his coach.
The Czech, renowned for his meticulous preparation and superlative fitness, lost his first four Slam finals before winning eight of his next 15. Murray has as tough a training regime as anyone on the tour yet he, too, has so far failed to convert his three major finals into a Grand Slam title.
Appropriate, then, that they have decided to combine their considerable forces at this stage in Murray’s career. For the Scot starts 2012 on the back of a season in which he joined an exclusive group of players to have reached the semi-finals or better of all four Grand Slams in a year and temporarily overtook Roger Federer in the rankings after a three-title run in Asia in the autumn.
And although Murray ended the year on a downbeat note, pulling out of the World Tour Finals with a groin injury, he arrived in Australia with that injury behind him and clearly optimistic about his new partnership: “It was important to me that any new person joining my team was able to add fresh insight. Ivan’s impact on the game is unquestionable and he brings experience and knowledge that few others have.”
Lendl gave further insight on why this could be a marriage made in heaven: “What excites me about his partnership? More than anything, it is simply that this is absolutely the best match-up. Our senses of humour are very similar and we have an understanding that we need to bring our best all the time if we want to achieve.”
By the time Lendl arrived in Brisbane, however, there had been a couple of worrying moments for Murray. First, he sported a knee support during practice before the tournament got under way, and then he made a slow start against world No 91, Mikhail Kukushkin, in the first round. Murray went 4-0 down in just 20 minutes, lost the first set 5-7 but went on to claim the win, 6-3, 6-2, after more than two hours.
It was a similar story against Gilles Muller in the second round, where Murray lost the opener, 4-6, broke and was broken in the second before grabbing the tie-break, and finally surged to a win, 6-0, in the third. From then on, things rapidly improved.
It took him only 66 minutes to beat Marcos Baghdatis, 6-2, 6-2, before outlining to Sky Sports his ambition to claim the No1 ranking: “[Last year] I played badly in Indian Wells and Miami after the Australian Open and that’s something I really want to try and avoid. If I can do that then hopefully I’ll get my ranking up and that’s one of the goals for this year, to finish at No1.”
Murray looked even better in his semi-final defeat of the impressive teenager, Bernard Tomic, who was making his ATP semi-final debut. Murray, playing his first match in front of Lendl and now without the need of his knee support, produced 13 aces and won 18 of his 19 service points in the first set on his way to defeating the powerful and fast-improving young Australian, 6-3, 6-2.
Murray faced world No15, Alexandr Dolgopolov, in the final. It marked the first hard-court final for the exciting, fast-rising Ukrainian who beat No2 seed, Gilles Simon, in some style in the semis, dropping only nine points on serve.
Against Murray, however, a groin strain impeded Dolgopolov’s naturally energetic style of play. The Scot won nine straight games to lead 6-1, 4-0 before a loss in concentration allowed Dolgopolov a break back, but Murray quickly refocused to win the match, 6-3, in just over an hour.
Murray was particularly pleased about his improved movement: “It’s good because I could easily have lost the second round against Muller but I managed to fight my way through and played three very good matches. I felt like I was moving well right at the end of the week.”
He now has a week of intense preparation with Lendl in his campaign to make it third-time-lucky in Melbourne. He told BBC’s Sportsweek: “He’s going to help with all sorts of things and hopefully, come the Australian Open, I’ll be playing great tennis, but we will have only been working together for 10 days. I’ll have to spend a lot more time with him before we can make any changes to my game.”
One of Murray’s biggest rivals for a first Grand Slam title in Melbourne will be the man who cruised to the prestigious Doha title this weekend, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The charismatic world No6 also enjoyed a strong end to 2011, reaching the final of the World Tour Finals and a career-high ranking.
In Doha, he beat fellow Frenchman, Gael Monfils, 7-5 6-3, to win his eighth ATP title in arguably the toughest of the Australian warm-up events: The draw also boasted Rafael Nadal and Federer.
Monfils, who also reached a career-high ranking of No7 in 2011 before slipping to his current No16, played some brilliant tennis in beating Viktor Troicki and then Nadal in straight sets. But Tsonga had a bye to the final after Federer withdrew with a back injury and that possibly helped him to overcome a 3-5 deficit in the first set by winning nine of the next 11 games against his tiring opponent.
Tsonga, like Murray, has reached the final of the Australian Open before, in 2008, and he is currently playing his best tennis since then. But, unlike Murray, he is flourishing without a coach, and clearly wants to ride his successful wave into 2012 with an intense schedule. He has already played the six-man Abu Dhabi exhibition event and now heads to the Kooyong Classic ahead of Melbourne.
The contrasting styles and personalities of the two could produce a fascinating match-up should the Australian Open draw, which takes place on Friday the 13th, fall in that direction.