Australian Open 2015: Masterful Murray praises Mauresmo ahead of fourth final

Andy Murray beats Tomas Berdych in four sets to reach his fourth career Australian Open final

So little to chose between them and so much at stake for the first two semi-finalists at this year’s Australian Open, Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych.

They were ranked No6 and 7 respectively, and had both enjoyed considerable success in Melbourne before: Murray a runner-up three times, Berdych a quarter-finalist for the last four years, going on to the semis last year.

Both had made smooth progress through difficult opposition: Murray dropping just one set, to Grigor Dimitrov; Berdych with a clean slate, including a dominant victory over Rafael Nadal. They were now just a handful of match-wins away from their career 500.

Even at the micro level, there was little between them: Both had made more winners than errors in all five matches so far, both had served and returned well, both had won almost 80 percent of plentiful net points.

And even off the court, there were parallels: They had recently become engaged to their long-term girlfriends, and boasted fresh, trimmed coaching set-ups—with, intriguingly, a common thread in Dani Vallverdu who had moved from Murray to Berdych during the off-season.

Both certainly were hoping to take a big and important step at the first Grand Slam of the season, to make a statement of intent. Murray could affirm his status back among ‘the big four’ after a year’s absence. Berdych, now 29 years old, could reach his first final since his only other at Wimbledon more than four years ago. Was he able to ‘do a Wawrinka’ and break through the Grand Slam ceiling?

This looked like the big Czech’s best opportunity since that 2010 Wimbledon. His form was not in dispute, nor his confidence and determination, nor his tactical smartness. He also led Murray 6-4, winning their last two meetings—both Masters quarter-finals, both in straight sets.

And as day gave way to evening, Berdych took full advantage of the early warmth with the naturally attacking, big-hitting game that had looked impregnable against Nadal. He was the one to hold serve more easily, opening with a love hold courtesy of a first ace, while Murray faced deuce in the second game.

Another hold from Berdych was again followed by a probing challenge on Murray. The Briton roared ‘C’mon’ after coming through two deuces to hold, but he could not hold off some huge returns of serve and a great net finish from Berdych in the next. The Czech served for the set at 5-3, but perhaps from nervous energy, missed a couple of first serves and was duly punished by some sizzling baseline play from Murray.

They were all square again, 5-5, and Berdych now had to survive a tense nine-minute game and two break points, along with a bizarre delay while two missing balls were hastily replaced. Murray probed, injecting angles and slice into some terrific exchanges, but still Berdych kept to his aggressive tactics, making his 13th winner at the net to hold.

The tie-break was just as tight, first Murray with set point, then Berdych, via punishing corner-to-corner points. But the Czech aced to bring up 7-6 and Murray netted a forehand to concede the set, 7-6(6). It had taken an hour and a quarter—and the match looked destined for several hours more.

That, though, was to underestimate the determination and quality of Murray. He had picked up momentum at the end of the first set to force a growing tally of errors from Berdych, and he rode that through a dazzling second set of just half an hour and six games—all of them won by Murray.

He had dropped only two points on serve and limited Berdych to just one winner by pinning him back with lobs, rhythmic hitting to alternate corners, and sudden switches from defence to attack.

Murray was probably unaware that Berdych had lost all 17 previous matches in which he had conceded a 0-6 set, but it mattered not: The Briton was on the march.

Even the gamesmanship edge was now with Murray. The Briton, needled by a Berdych comment at the end of the first set, used it as a spur, and at the end of the second set, he waited for Berdych to return to court before leaving himself.

The third set was closer. Berdych lasted until the sixth game before getting broken—not helped by two double faults—and Murray served out the set with an ace, 6-3.

Berdych tried to reclaim the initiative in the fourth, and almost broke in the sixth game. But a couple of errors, and some quite wonderful defence-turned-attack from Murray, kept the score at 3-3. A sixth double fault from Berdych at 5-5, followed by a backhand hit long sealed his fate, leaving Murray to serve out in style, to love, with his 15th ace of the match.

Murray’s first action was to point a finger towards his coach of eight months, Amelie Mauresmo, and then clench fist and teeth in a clear message to the many critics of his choice last summer. He reinforced that message minutes later:

“A lot of people criticised me working with her, and I think so far this week we’ve shown that women can be very good coaches as well… I’m very thankful to Amelie for doing it. It was, I would say, a brave choice of her to do it, and hopefully I can repay her in a few days.”

Then, he will be playing either defending champion Stan Wawrinka or world No1 Novak Djokovic, the man he beat on the way to both his previous Grand Slam triumphs at the US Open in 2012 and Wimbledon in 2013. However, he lost the last two of his three finals in Australia to Djokovic, in 2011 and 2013.

How much Mauresmo was responsible for encouraging Murray to play so offensively he is unlikely to admit, but he did, unusually, refer to notes after the first set, and admitted that he had adapted his tactics:

“At the beginning, I felt very rushed, but I started to get used to that towards the end of the set and then I tried to play really aggressive on his service games and mine, tried to make him do most of the running to get the momentum back.

“I knew that when I was dictating the points and getting the first strikes in, I was winning the majority of those points so I was trying to do that more and more as the match went on, and I think I managed to do it quite a bit at the end.”

Whoever is responsible—most probably a joint Murray and Mauresmo effort—it was a joy to watch, reviving memories of the tennis he produced to beat Roger Federer to Olympic gold and to Djokovic to the Wimbledon title.

He will need more of the same, whichever former champion he faces in the final.

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