Andy Murray beats Tomas Berdych to reach first Dubai semi
Andy Murray beats Tomas Berdych 6-3 7-5 to reach the semi-finals of the Dubai Championships for the first time
It was, once again, an all-star line-up in Dubai. The swimming-pool-blue centre court would host seven of the top eight seeds in the day’s quarter-finals—and the only non-seed, Mikhail Youzhny, was a former top-10 player who won the Zagreb title just last month.
They were tasty match-ups, too. While Roger Federer held an 11-0 win-loss advantage over Youzhny and Novak Djokovic a 3-1 hold over compatriot and world No9 Janko Tipsarevic, the other two top seeds faced tougher odds.
The day would close with two in-form men who continue to make steady inroads into the top rankings: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, newly No5 this week; and Juan Martin del Potro, back in the top 10 for the first time since wrist surgery. The Argentine, though still the lower seed, held a 4-1 advantage.
Perhaps the most intriguing match, however, was the opening feature between Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych. While Murray held a three-place lead in the rankings, the Czech held a 3-1 match lead. Indeed the Scot had not beaten Berdych since Basel in 2005, and that was a three-setter.
The best guide to their form, though, lay in their most recent meeting, a 3hr 14min marathon comprising 241 points at the Paris Masters last November. Berdych eventually came through, but the Murray loss came on the back of an intense autumn schedule: the semis of the US Open, two wins in the Davis Cup and three straight titles in the Far East.
Each man had a title in 2012, each had made good runs in the Australian Open—Murray rather more so—but the tall, powerful Czech came into this Dubai match in a particularly good form: 14 wins for two losses, the title in Montpellier and the semis in Rotterdam. And the fast courts of Dubai could once again make life very difficult for Murray.
From the outset, it was a hit-and-miss match. Murray won his opening serve to love and went 40-0 on the Berdych serve, converting the third break point for an immediate 2-0 lead. Berdych nearly struck back with three break chances of his own but Murray’s strong serving took him to a 3-0 lead.
Berdych, though, started to settle down and stepped up his attacking tactics—and it is an intimidating sight when the 6ft 5in Czech pounds into the net. His backhand cross-court approach shot in particular began to fire well but Murray countered by, now and again, attacking the net on his own serve.
That forced enough errors from Berdych for Murray to hold onto his advantage, despite facing another break point when serving for the set. His serve, which performed better than his opponent’s throughout the match, held firm for a 6-3 lead.
It had been 42 minutes of big-man hitting and that continued in the second set, which again saw an immediate break of the Berdych serve followed by a strong hold from Murray.
But as before, Berdych then found his big tennis, pounded through a strong hold via a couple of 135mph plus serves, and went for some full-blooded returns against Murray courtesy of that same big backhand. Murray, showing some signs of a niggle in his right knee, buckled under the bombardment, and a double fault levelled the score, 2-2.
Now it was Berdych’s turn to make the errors, three of them in a row, to go 0-40 and a break down. Still the hit-and-miss tennis continued, this time with Murray making a poor backhand error to bring up two break points followed by a forehand error to bring Berdych level again.
The two stayed on even terms to the business end of the set, both suffering deuce service games and both alternating big winners with big errors. At 5-5, though, it was Berdych who pressed just too hard. Always an aggressive player, he went for winners but made two errors off the ground followed by a double fault to hand Murray a break chance. A wild forehand brought up a second and another forehand into the net gave Murray a 6-5 lead and the chance to serve for the match.
It looked like a foregone conclusion when Murray hit three straight unreturnable serves for a 40-0 lead but he followed them three backhand errors to level the score. He went on to withstand three more deuces and a break point before finally sealing his place in his first Dubai semi-final in four attempts, 7-5.
Berdych was a semi-finalist here last year and will surely rue the number of lost chances to repeat this year. He converted only two out of eight break points, served at just 51 per cent, and his error count—often going for outright winners at the expense of playing the occasional percentage point—was his downfall.
Murray’s only loss so far this year came in the Australian semis to eventual winner Djokovic, and that was a tight five-set affair. His next match will most likely be against the same man, and he sees the challenge as a good thing.
“I would like to get a chance to play him again,” he said. “Before the Indian Wells/Miami stretch it would be good to see exactly what I need to work on, where my game is. I had a good match with him in Australia and hopefully can reverse the result tomorrow.”
He will have to make more hits and fewer misses than he did against Berdych, but Murray will fancy his chances against his friend and rival this time around.