Originally, the world No2 faced the prospect of either No5 seed Rafael Nadal or No4 seed Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals, but both men lost early—followed by John Isner and Sam Querrey in the same quarter.
Murray’s bottom quarter, though, had not opened up quite as nicely, and in just his second match, the third round, he faced the unpredictably dangerous Grigor Dimitrov.
In Dimitrov’s favour, apart from possessing a game of variety, touch, pace and attack, was that he had pushed Murray to the limit on several occasions, including their last two matches, both on hard courts, both in 2015. Murray needed four sets to win at the Australian Open, and in Cincinnati, he had to come back from a set down to take the second set in a tie-break and the third 7-5.
However, the Bulgarian, seeded just 26 though a former top-10 player, had survived a tough opener against Federico Delbonis of two hours 40 minutes, and he brought to the Miami table two more disadvantages.
First, Dimitrov had reached the fourth round at this tournament only once in five previous visits, his best run in 2012. And second, Murray was—literally—very at home in Miami, the site of his training base over many years. And that showed in the Briton’s results: He had reached the Miami final in three of the past four years, was one of only three former champions in the draw, and was up to 28-8 in match wins and losses.
This year, there was a little something extra in the Murray camp too. He had enjoyed a productive start to the year, with a final run in Australia, the birth of his first daughter soon after, and then three back-to-back wins in Davis Cup. He was also now reunited with his family after their first break during Indian Wells.
Yet again, his contest with Dimitrov would be tight, one that swung first one way then the other, now with Murray holding the advantage, now Dimitrov clawing it back. It became gripping in its unpredictability.
Right at the start, Dimitrov faced 0-40 on serve but won five points in a row. Come the third game, he was indeed broken, but Murray handed an opening back with a double fault and Dimitrov pulled off a brilliant backhand lob and finished with a smash, 3-3: They had already played for almost half an hour.
The 24-year-old Bulgarian now looked full of attack, coming to the net to win his next two service games with smashes. In contrast, Murray was making few winners—just two by the time they reached 5-5—but his dogged resistance and defence ensured a tie-break, and then his superior experience and focus came to the fore. Dimitrov double faulted on the first point, over-pressed, and won just a single point. Murray led, 7-6(1) after an hour.
Dimitrov regrouped quickly, though, while Murray seemed to lose all concentration, and the momentum swung back. The Bulgarian broke twice, chipping his returns, and drawing errors. Murray was further distracted by line calls and a code violation, but it was Dimitrov who wavered on serve. Two double faults and he handed back one break, winning one point in a run of 10.
Murray held off a break point for 3-4 and held to love to force Dimitrov to serve for the set, and the Bulgarian tensed up again: first a double fault, then a wayward backhand for break point. But he held for the set, 6-4, helped not a little by Murray’s 13 errors to just four winners in the set.
Both men went off to change their clothes—a frequent occurrence this week in the sweltering heat and humidity—and Murray seemed to return the more focused. He broke in the fourth game for a 3-1 lead, but then would not win another game. Through some of the most competitive rallies of the match, it was the aggressive tactics of Dimitrov that grabbed the momentum and forced errors from the Briton’s racket. Two missed backhands from Murray conceded one break and a netted forehand a second, to leave Dimitrov the winner, 6-3, after two and a half hours.
Dimitrov afterwards explained to Sky Sports how he had turned the match in his favour: “I thought I was striking the ball pretty good. Very poor tie-break on my side, but I was trying to be very composed. Coming into the third set, I knew that Andy is obviously pretty fit and he runs down every ball, and he was up a break, but that didn’t discourage me. I felt at some time I’d get a bit of a chance.
“He’s one of the biggest role models out there on and off court. [But] I’ve been working a lot, and my main goal was to come out and leave myself on the court.
“Physically I felt good, which is a good sign for the next one.”
That next one will be against the winner between No16 Gael Monfils and No 23 Pablo Cuevas, and looking further ahead to the quarter-finals, he could play either No6 Kei Nishikori, who sailed by Alexandr Dolgopolov, 6-2, 6-2, or Roberto Bautista Agut, who turned round a two-and-a-half-hour battle against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(3).
But while Murray may have failed to reach the fourth round in Miami, in the women’s draw, Johanna Konta became the first British woman to reach the quarters in Miami with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Monica Niculescu. She next plays Victoria Azarenka.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge