“I have started to see the right shots at the right moment and I am clear with what I am doing. I have come a long way in the last 10 days or so,” said Andy Murray, who reached the semi-final at the French Open with a 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(0), 6-1 over Kei Nishikori in the quarter-final on Wednesday.
Opening play against Murray on the day, Nishikori started off the first set by taking control over their baseline rallies, using well-timed angled shots to direct the ball side-to-side before changing direction and going behind Murray to hit easy winners. The Japanese also gained advantage over his rival by taking the ball early at frequent intervals and stepping well inside the court to finish off the point either with some deft volleying or clean smashes.
From slow start... to quick finish
Murray’s slow start was, on the contrary, repetitive of the pattern he has had come to set at Roland Garros this far. And Nishikori, like all of Murray’s previous opponents too faded away once he hit his stride. Looking back, onlookers of the match would majorly attribute Carlos Ramos, the chair umpire as being the inadvertent catalyst to inspire the Briton with an ill-timed penalising of his first serve at the start of the second set.
“I was frustrated at that moment. It felt to me like it was a strange decision. I have never seen anyone get a warning after they have missed the ball toss,” the 2016 French Open finalist mentioned after the match before adding, “For a couple of points after that I was fired up.”
Thus, while a lot of hue and cry can be made about Murray admitting to replenishing his lagging morale and turning the match around, it is also important to weigh in the qualifier he used to describe the situation and his ensuing mindset.
Because, however pumped he may have had been in the immediate moments following Ramos’ intervention, it would have been difficult for Murray to hold on to his annoyance for the course of the next three sets. Particularly in the third set when Nishikori bounced back from a break twice, including in the 12th game, when Murray trying to serve the set to take a two-set lead was broken to-15.
The flash point of game and focus
What transpired in the third set tie-break thereafter and in the fourth set, when Murray overturned a service break in the first game of the set, can then be termed as the factors that brought out the difference between him and his opponent, when it mattered the most, even to the extent of determining the winner.
On both occasions, across the one-and-a-half sets, Murray not only came through his game – by using the very tactics that Nishikori had employed at the start of the match – but also by willing himself to keep going, by looking past his opponent to his remaining course in the tournament.
“Obviously if someone had offered me a semi-final spot before the tournament, I would have signed up for that because I was not playing well at all,” stated Murray self-deprecatingly. “Anyone can win matches when they are playing well. It’s winning when you’re not playing your best is more impressive.”
Murray’s wryness has come to be accepted as a part of tennis’ current lore as much as the man himself. However, there’s a certain reality underscored by his words, which make his quarter-final an even bigger stand-out than perhaps what the two-hour-39 minute matchup actually was.