Andy Murray digs deep to beat fatigue and Jerzy Janowicz

Andy Murray battles to a three-set victory over Jerzy Janowicz in the first round of the China Open

andy murray
British No1 Andy Murray Photo: Marianne Bevis

These are arduous days for Andy Murray.

As the window for qualification for the ATP’s climax at the World Tour Finals grows smaller, Murray has found himself short of the top eight ranking places required to ensure his place in London.

His position at 11th in the race as tennis geared up for the Asian swing forced his hand, and he took wild cards into the 250 in Shenzhen and the 500 in Beijing. Murray has always done well in this part of the world: He has reached the finals of the last three Shanghai Masters, winning two of them. But with all the top players in contention for the title in Shanghai, he needed to boost his points-gaining chances sooner rather than later.

In Shenzhen, it started well, with top seed David Ferrer falling early along with all the seeds in Murray’s half. He would win his first title since Wimbledon last year with some gutsy tennis that saw him face down match points in a gruelling three-set final against Tommy Robredo—and that after coming back from a set down in his semi against Juan Monaco.

Much as that title boosted Murray’s London cause, pushing him up to 10th in the race, it must have boosted his confidence even more. But the hard work was just beginning.

After the punishing matches and hot, humid conditions of south China, he had just a day to fly the 2,000km north to Beijing. And there were no byes for the top players in a 32-strong draw that included five top-10 men and five more who were also in the race for London.

In fewer than two days, then, Murray also found himself playing one of the most dangerous unseeded men in the draw. The 23-year-old, 6ft 8in Jerzy Janowicz is ranked 36, but a year ago, before injuries blighted season, he broke the top 15 after a semi-final run at Wimbledon. That match happened to be against Murray, and the Pole won the first set before the Briton continued his progress to the famous title.

Janowicz also happened to beat Murray two years ago on his way to the Paris Masters final, so he had no doubts about his ability to beat the No6 seed. And it showed in the opening set.

Playing first-strike, all-court, power-and-touch tennis, Janowicz broke Murray twice to lead 5-1. Not that Murray did not have openings: He broke in the fourth game. But the nature of the big Pole’s game makes it difficult to build any rhythm, on which Murray’s game thrives, and especially so soon switching to a new court and new conditions.

Yet while Janowicz has weapons aplenty—big serves, strong down-the-line backhands, outrageous drop shots and decent movement for one so tall—he is unpredictable, inconsistent and impulsive.

That kind of vulnerability is exposed by no-one better than Murray, whose defensive skills demand focus and persistence. Janowicz had Murray at deuce in the seventh game, but the Briton held, broke, and with his rhythm established, served strongly to hold and break again.

The odds were on Murray to carry his momentum through the tie-break, and he did indeed race to 4-1, but the Pole is capable of seizing control with a couple of big strikes, and the see-sawing game finally went his way, 11-9.

Murray was livid with himself for failing to cash in on two set points, and his frustrations found voice in some vocal exhortations.

However, with his rhythm, serve and defence taking ever more control over the match, he cut his error count from 19 in the first set to just five in the second. Janowicz came under growing pressure, and that is when his focus wavers. Two double faults and a wild smash in the ninth game, and he conceded the break: Murray levelled the match, 6-4.

That, then, set the tone of the final set, with Murray becoming impregnable and Janowicz pushing for ever-more unlikely winners. The break came much sooner, with two more double faults from Janowicz in the third game, and Murray raced to victory with another break, 6-2.

All things considered—the gruelling Shenzhen victory, the distance travelled to Beijing, the quick adjustment to different conditions, the nature of his first opponent, and of course the two and a half hours it took him to win this opener—Murray must count this as a very good win.

He should also handle his next opponent, the 35-ranked Pablo Cuevas, with relative ease, but then things get tougher again: US Open champion Marin Cilic is a possible opponent in the quarters, Djokovic in the semis, and Nadal in the final—if all goes to plan.

Arduous days indeed, but Murray is starting to look the part.

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