As he pointed out, he may have played a lot of matches at the All England Club’s Centre Court but he has spent a lot more time practising at Crandon Park.
And after taking Tim Henman’s British Open-era record of 496 in Indian Wells last week, Murray could reach that new, well-rounded figure with just two more wins in this oh-so-different tennis haven: a run to the quarter-finals at a tournament that has proved a winner for Murray twice before, the Miami Open.
So Miami’s Centre Court suits him to its purple ground.
In his first seed of the tournament, the 27-year-old, 31-ranked Colombian, Santiago Giraldo, he could have done worse in attempting to tick off win 499.
Murray did lose the last of their three previous matches, at the Madrid Masters last year. But now, almost a year on, and back to full fitness and the No4 ranking after his back surgery at the end of 2013, the Briton is a different animal, one who has reached the final of the Australian Open, two 500 quarter-finals and the semis of Indian Wells this year—not to mention his exuberant role in helping GB to the quarters of the Davis Cup in front of his Scottish faithful.
Not that Giraldo is a stranger to Florida: He too trains in this state, but is nevertheless much more at home on clay. His only two career finals have been on clay, and his best run this year, to the semis in Sao Paulo, was also on the red stuff—and his only top-10 win was that one over Murray in Madrid.
But in what Latin America regards as its own mini-Major, the support was vocal for the Colombian man who can produce some eye-catching shot-making off his forehand—very like his mentor, former Chilean star Fernando Gonzalez.
And Giraldo lived with Murray at the start of the first match on Centre Court on another hot but breezy mid-day in Miami. Murray’s serving, though, was already looking very solid with two love holds to open proceedings. Given an opening in the sixth game, he fired a backhand down the line off a second serve to break—a play that would cut deep into the Colombian’s game throughout.
Murray saw a couple of those dangerous forehands flash off his own second serves, too, but came close to breaking again in a seven-minute game, and served out the set with an ace, 6-3—his 10th winner of the set to nine errors.
The second set showed Murray had determined to go on the offensive, and he took every second serve very early, and usually for winners, to get an immediate break to love. He held to love for a 4-0 lead before Giraldo found a good hold of his own, and the Colombian faced defeat in the face at 1-5 down.
However he was not fazed by two hot backhand winners from Murray, but instead found a couple of forehand winners to drag the score back to deuce. Murray double faulted and Giraldo had one break back.
The crowd were loving it, especially when the Colombian fended off deuce to hold for 4-5. But they would not get much more: Murray served it out, 6-4, in tidy style,
He talked afterwards of the tactics that helped him make this win look so straightforward: “I felt like a played a good match. When he really started going for it at the end, I lost my timing a bit and had to try and take a couple of steps back from the baseline. But I thought it was a good match from my side.
“I wanted to take advantage of his not having a big second serve… so I wanted to take time away from him, get him off balance at the beginning of the rallies.”
It certainly worked, but he admitted that the tactics might be rather different against the big-hitting Kevin Anderson, who matched Murray almost blow for blow on the clock in beating Leonardo Mayer, 6-4 6-4.
Murray commented: “It will be a tough match. He lives in Delray Beach just down the road. I practise with him occasionally in Miami. He’s used to the conditions. He’s obviously a big server, a big guy, so it’s always tough.”
Of course, Murray is also now one step from that 500 mark, too, but approached the prospect with typical understatement.
“It’s nice, because when you see the list of the players that have won that many matches there aren’t loads… I obviously want to try and win more, and hopefully still have quite a few years ahead of me left to add to that number. It’s a lot of wins. It’s not easy these days to win that many matches, so that’s a good sign.”
World No17 Anderson reached the fourth round for the first time since 2011, when he went on to reach his first Masters quarter-final.
Beyond Anderson, just over the horizon, lies Stan Wawrinka, but the Swiss who turned 30 yesterday, would find himself locked in a long, see-sawing battle with the fast-improving left-handed Frenchman, Adrian Mannarino.
The survivor would meet the 21-year-old single-hander from Austria, Dominic Thiem, who has promised great things since he burst on the scene a year ago with some strong runs in Indian Wells and then Madrid—where he beat Wawrinka. He took out another young player making strides this season, 22-year-old Jack Sock, 6-4, 6-3.
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