Wednesday 28 September 2016

Thunder halts Murray as Scot storms back

Simon Briggs

Published 06/06/2015 | 02:30

Determination is the name of the game as Andy Murray returns a shot against Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. Photo: Dan Istitene/Getty Images
Determination is the name of the game as Andy Murray returns a shot against Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. Photo: Dan Istitene/Getty Images

The threat of a thunderstorm ended one of the most thunderous matches of the tennis season to date, as Andy Murray fought back from apparently hopeless position to push a boggle-eyed Novak Djokovic to the edge of his physical capacity.

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Stranded overnight with Djokovic leading 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 3-3, these two old rivals will have to resume their epic battle at 1.0 today.

The court supervisor interrupted a breathtaking contest to insist that the players left the court shortly after 8.3, much to the chagrin of a breathless crowd. Not that they had been riveted throughout the entirely of a match that has already run to 3hr 8min.

For the first two sets, Court Philippe Chatrier had been little more than somnolent as Djokovic suffocated a subdued Murray with some of the most flawless tennis ever seen, whether on this court or anywhere else.

It was a performance of sheer mastery from the world No 1, and yet, because these two players tend to pursue such similar patterns of play, it was not, in truth, a great spectacle.

Djokovic was mostly locked in his familiar state of Zen concentration, while Murray chuntered quietly without even getting worked up enough to lose his rag.

Both these men know the statistics backwards, and those statistics say that Murray has never beaten Djokovic in any of their 26 previous meetings when he has lost the first set.

They also say that Djokovic has lost only one match in his entire career when he has taken a two-set lead, that unexpected result coming at Roland Garros in 2010 against Austria's Jurgen Melzer.

So there would have been every reason for Murray to accept his fate as he faced two break points in the sixth game of the third set.

The two players had already been out there for two hours in punishing 33C heat, and his shirt was soaked through with perspiration.

But he refused to go quietly, and it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that his comeback was fuelled by hate.

It is not that Murray hates Djokovic, but he absolutely does hate losing to anyone seven times in a row, which is the way their rivalry has gone since the Wimbledon final of 2013.

He also hates being toyed with in the way that Djokovic was toying with him, using the drop-shot/lob combination that Murray has so often used to discombobulate his own opponents.

In fact, it was one of those cheeky little plays that started the turning of the tide.

Djokovic was serving to take a 6-5 lead in the third set when he dragged Murray into the net with a short ball, then flicked it back casually over his head. But Murray charged backwards and produced the most important shot of the match so far - a hooked forehand pass that left Djokovic stranded this time.

Now Murray suddenly located his inner beast. He let out a blood-curdling roar, pumped both fists up and down, and then made the sort of "Where are ya?" gestures at the crowd that Delia Smith would have been proud of.

On the next point, he did it again, this time after winning another fantasy rally that ended with a screaming forehand down the line.

All of a sudden, the fans were all with Murray, and their cheers seemed to suck the air out of Djokovic's lungs.

So poised and serene throughout the match, he bunted a limp forehand into the net on the next point and was promptly broken for the first time in the match.

Once Murray had served out to claim the third set, Djokovic went off the court for a seven-minute medical time-out to have a hip problem attended to.

The lengthy break earned him a few caustic comments on social media, for there was no doubt that he needed to halt Murray's momentum, quieten the crowd and get his own breath back.

He had also called the trainer at 4-3 in the opening set, while making gestures to his players' box to suggest that he was feeling dizzy, but he must have cancelled the request, for no one ever arrived on the court.

Murray managed to keep his fires burning during the fourth set, producing a superb sequence of points to stave off 0-40 in his opening service game, and then breaking again to lead 2-1.

Stronger

It looked as if he was the stronger man physically - possibly an unprecedented situation for any player who has faced Djokovic this year.

But this impression did not last long, as Djokovic found a burst of adrenalin and broke straight back again.

Murray was now shouting at himself at full volume, not even bothering to cover his mouth with a towel, as he has in previous matches in this tournament, and at the next changeover he flagellated himself in a more literal sense, beating furiously at his thigh with his fist.

The battle was not quite done, for Murray still had to fight off two more break points to go into the overnight break at 3-3 in the fourth.

In all probability, the interruption has cost him his best chance of reaching the final.

Djokovic's note-perfect tennis in the early stages was simply too good for him, and it was only by turning a strategic contest into a lung-bursting brawl that he managed to regain some of the initiative.

But there could be a psychological issue now too. All the expectation is on Djokovic, who has invested so much effort in trying to win this title and complete the career Grand Slam.

Whoever wins, the fact that they have to play on each of the last three days of the tournament cannot hurt Stan Wawrinka's prospects in the final. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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