Andy Murray battles past Michael Berrer into Dubai second round
British No1 Andy Murray survives second-set scare to beat German qualifier Michael Berrer 6-3 4-6 6-4 at the Dubai Championships
With a schedule of play that would make even a Grand Slam envious, the second day of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships was set to be a treat even without the news that broke with the dawn.
For in the 20th anniversary year of this spectacular event, the tournament was awarded the ATP World Tour award for the players’ favourite 500 in the calendar—for the eighth time in nine years.
What better way to celebrate the accolade than with a line-up that boasted six of the eight top-10 players in the Dubai draw. Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro were reserved for the evening session, and Tomas Berdych and Janko Tipsarevic were out on Court 1. That gave the opening slot on centre stage to world No4, Andy Murray.
Murray, playing his first match since an outstanding semi-final performance at the Australian Open, is in Dubai for the fourth time and aiming to improve on his quarterfinal finishes in 2008 and 2009. He is also aiming to build the kind of impetus that was missing from his Indian Wells/Miami preparations last year: Then, he lost in the first round of both Masters.
He was drawn to face Michael Berrer, the veteran German he beat in both their previous meetings, both of them last year. But Berrer, too, had been a quarterfinalist in Dubai in 2010, and though he has never won a title, his game is one that can flower in the heat of Dubai.
At 6ft 4in and 100 kg, the German has a big, left-handed serve-and-volley style and, with two qualifying matches already under his belt, he clearly had the measure of the Dubai conditions.
So on courts that Murray described as “very fast”—and in the hot midday sun—the German’s attacking game took Murray to deuce on the No3 seed’s opening service game and Berrer hustled an error to break.
Murray quickly returned the favour with an inch-perfect lob to earn a break chance in the second game but, with the match back on level terms, Berrer continued with his bold play. He opened up the court with an impressive leftie single-handed backhand reminiscent of another big serve-and-volley left-hander, Feliciano Lopez, and looked for every opportunity to attack the net on Murray’s serve.
In the fifth game, Murray found himself at deuce on serve again, Berrer now deploying drop shots along with his deep backhand, but Murray’s superior speed and great counterpunching held off Berrer ready for his own attack in the next game. A sequence of penetrating returns forced errors from Berrer and Murray took a 4-2 lead.
Despite serving at 86 percent and holding his next serve to love, Berrer could make little more impact and Murray served out two games for the loss of only one point to take the set, 6-3.
In the fifth game of the second set, Murray looked home and dry when he broke Berrer, but the German renewed his attack on the Murray serve, coming to the net to pick off some courageous overheads.
With the break back, Berrer found some extra intensity on his ground strokes, too, and squeezed a few errors out of his opponent with the depth and width of his shots. He earned two break chances in the eighth game but Murray saved the day with a sequence of big serves.
Despite having another break point on the Berrer game, Murray failed to convert it and found himself serving to save the set. Showing some frustration at the tenacity and aggression of Berrer’s game, Murray overhit a couple forehands to concede two break point chances and Berrer converted the second to take the set, 6-4.
Murray seemed quickly to refocus and he reasserted his superiority with a break in the opening game of the third, only to drift again on his own serve, lose control of two baseline rallies and go down two break points himself. A Murray volley into the net levelled the match back at 1-1.
The next two games repeated the seesawing fortunes. Both were broken again in wayward service games, Murray’s to love with two inexplicable double faults and two forehand errors.
Finally, Berrer managed the first hold of the set. Murray had to play his best tennis to stay with the German’s continued aggressive rhythm and the set stayed on serve to 4-4.
With the match approaching two hours, though, the 31-year-old German began to look the more tired and Murray stepped up the pace to force the break. It was then the work of a minute or two to serve out the match 6-4.
This proved to be more of a warm-up for Murray than he may have expected—and credit should go to Berrer for maintaining his attacking tactics against one of the best returners in tennis. Murray, though, will have benefitted from a quick-paced match that showed him all sorts of balls—short and long, fast and sliced—to get his feet and his racket arm into good working order.
He now has the advantage of another qualifier, Marco Chiudinelli, in round two before winding up to his first top-10 opponent, Berdych.
The Czech has won the last three of their four encounters, most recently on the indoor hard courts of Paris last October, and he is in tournament-winning form. Murray will not be able to afford the loss of concentration he showed at several points in this hard-earned first-round win.