Wimbledon 2012: Andy Murray beats the clock & Marcos Baghdatis
Andy Murray wins a dramatic match 7-5 3-6 7-5 6-1 against Marcos Baghdatis to set up a fourth-round clash with Marin Cilic
There were a few things that could have concerned Andy Murray about his third-round opponent, Marcos Baghdatis, when they met on Centre Court for the seventh time in their careers.
The Cypriot, ranked as high as No8 a few years back, took on Murray’s former coach, Miles Maclagan, around a year ago. He partnered Andy’s brother Jamie in doubles at the Aegon Championships at Queen’s. Last but not least, in their only previous grass meeting—their first ever match six years ago—Baghdatis beat Murray in straight sets in the fourth round at this very tournament.
It was a package to ring alarm bells—coaching, playing and fraternal inside knowledge—but Murray was unconcerned.
“We grew up playing the juniors and he’s coached by Miles, so we know each other’s games well,” he said. “We’ve played twice since Miles started coaching him and I’ve won both times, so I don’t know how much of a factor it will have.”
There were, quite simply, more immediate things to focus on, such as Baghdatis’s flair with a tennis racket and his efforts in the last year or so to return from injury a slimmer, fitter, faster man.
There were also his past exploits at Wimbledon: After beating Murray in 2006, he went on the reach the semis, and then the quarters the next year.
There was also his energy-conserving route into this match: a quick three-setter over Albert Montanes followed by a set-and-a-break-lead over Grigor Dimitrov before the Bulgarian was forced to retire. Murray, meanwhile, had dug deep against a challenging Ivo Karlovic to win in four sets and more than three hours to reach Round 3.
It was crowd-pleasing combination, too: The tall, powerful, serious Scot carrying the weight of a nation’s hopes against the extrovert, expressive, compact and often beaming character from the Med.
As one of the best returners of serve on the tour, Murray used the win of the toss to receive first, immediately putting pressure on the Baghdatis serve. It looked like a good move, as the Cypriot needed three smashes to put away the first point, so good was Murray’s retrieving.
It proved to be game of cat and mouse that would set the tone for the whole match.
With no huge weapons such as the Murray backhand or serve, Baghdatis uses different tactics, mixing in slice, serve and volley, drops and lobs with deep, flat and accurate ground strokes. He held serve comfortably, and it was Murray the faced the first deuce in the fourth game.
Such is the beauty of tennis that this match became a direct counterpoint to Murray’s Karlovic match, one of guile, craft and tactical smartness rather than power and aggression.
As the set went on, long patient rallies dovetailed with big serve-and-volley plays, but gradually Murray began to win more of them, especially in the backhand slices exchanges.
Although Baghdatis earned the first to break chances in the eighth game, it was Murray who was the first to convert one in the 11th and it proved to be enough to prevent a tie-break. A near perfect mix of pace and touch, slice and top-spin won the required four points for the set, 7-5. It seemed, too, that he held all the cards—including the fitness one, for both men were covering acres of ground.
But in fact the movement of both got even better. The opening three games of the second set took a quarter of an hour, as cat and mouse turned into a game of chicken: They played longer and longer corner-to-corner rallies until one changed the rhythm. That one was usually Baghdatis who was drawn to the net or to a rash drop-shot only for Murray to pass him.
It gave the Scot two more break chances, only for two near-identical exchanges of 20-plus shot rallies to go to Baghdatis, but on a third, the Cypriot made the fatal error of rushing forward and netted his volley. Murray made the first break in what was becoming a very chill basin of shadow.
The inevitable question loomed after two nights completed under the roof. When would the white structure again slide into place for play to continue?
Not before Baghdatis made a break back, courtesy of a double fault. And not before the tennis went up another gear with some magnificent exchanges. One of the finest came on a sixth break point against the Baghdatis serve: It had drops, retrieved lobs and more rushes to the net.
The Cypriot, belying any suggestion that fatigue may play a part, finally held and he grinned as only this man can. Now eliminating almost all errors, he forcing deep to the Murray backhand over and over, and broke to lead for the first time, 4-2.
Conditions were now becoming tricky. Twice Murray slipped over, and it became only a matter of time before they could no longer pick off the smashes and volleys that peppered Baghdatis’s rush 5-2. And once the set was closed out, 6-3, the announcement came: the roof would be closed.
The decision had a major impact on the conditions. The roof shut out a cold wind and warmed the air, and bathed the grass in brilliant light. The two men returned, one smiling broadly the other deadly serious, to cheers and Mexican waves. Murray had reason to look serious: He now had strapping around his knee.
It took several breaks of serve before one man was able to consolidate his advantage.
With Baghdatis serving at 4-3, Murray focused anew, went up 40-15 and, despite another fall behind the baseline, he converted the second break point. It brought his most intense reaction of the night, a roar at his box and a finger pointed at his brain. That focus had worked and now he was pumped and energised and eager to ride his momentum to the set’s end.
With his most convincing service game since the opening set, he forced Baghdatis to save the set. The Cypriot did it once but not twice. An inspired Murray, resisting ever-deeper strikes to his backhand, turned defence into attack with a searing backhand winner down the line to close out the set 7-5.
If he had been as pumped before, the British crowd had probably not seen it. This looked like the key breakthrough, the moment when even the best and boldest that Baghdatis could throw at him, was not enough.
Now came the second vital question. Could Murray close this out before the clock ticked to the all-important 11pm? For at that moment, play would halt whether the match was won or not. He had a scant 20 minutes to do it, and each of the previous sets had gone beyond 50.
But Murray was determined this would not wait two days to decide. He was fired up, and broke quickly to lead 3-0, breaking down, it seemed, the Baghdatis backhand. Murray bounced and jigged while Baghdatis looked drained and desperate. This was slipping through his hands with each minute and, at 5-1, the clock ticked to 11.
Murray urged the balls to his end of the court. Two aces, a backhand down the line, and a final winning serve closed it out neatly and in seconds, 6-1.
It would be impossible to manufacture a more perfectly timed denouement to a week. At one minute past Wimbledon’s witching hour, the home hero rounded off a third straight night of drama under the Centre Court roof, rounded out the third round of the draw, and closed the first week in the best possible way.
He knows that next week and the fourth round will bring new challenges.
The loss of Rafael Nadal from his half, though a huge fillip to his campaign to reach his first Wimbledon final, is, as he pointed out, “Completely irrelevant to me unless I reach the semi-finals.”
Marin Cilic is next and the fact that the Croat played for over five hours, winning 17-15 in the fifth, must invigorate Murray. Beyond that lies either Juan Martin del Potro or David Ferrer.
They are big hurdles, but after tonight’s performance, the Murray campaign is looking mighty promising.