Murray unfazed by familiar face on Berdych’s courtside
AS Andy Murray moves closer to a third grand slam title, there is a nice symmetry emerging in Melbourne that could inspire him to glory. Having dispatched the hugely talented Australian youngster Nick Kyrgios yesterday, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3, Murray is into his fifth Melbourne semi-final and 15th grand slam semi-final overall.
Tomorrow, he’ll play Tomas Berdych, the man he beat at the same stage at the US Open in 2012 when he won his first grand slam title.
And the man he beat for that title, world No.1 Novak Djokovic, plays his quarter-final this morning UK time and is favourite to make yet another final.
Whether Murray believes in omens or not, the Scot will probably take some confidence from the memory of beating both men in New York as he prepares for what he described yesterday as “another good opportunity”.
The sub-plot to the Berdych match, of course, is that the Czech is now coached by Dani Vallverdu, who until November had been a long-serving and trusted member of Team Murray.
The two men parted ways amicably – there was a warm embrace in Melbourne when they saw each other in week one – and Vallverdu will obviously bring some insight into the Murray game and psyche.
“To be honest, I don’t really want to talk about what Dani’s strengths and weaknesses are,” a mildly irritated Murray said. “I’m happy to talk about Berdych and what his strengths and weaknesses are, but I don’t want to discuss what Dani does well and doesn’t do well because I’m not playing against him.
“I don’t think in loads of sports people talk about other player’s coaches and managers and whatnot. Coaches talk about each other, but not for me to discuss.”
Soon after, Murray’s dry sense of humour – or perhaps it was exasperation – shone through when he told BBC Sport that Vallverdu’s presence “made Berdych favourite”.
“Dani knows my game inside out. I would expect he would come up with a great game plan,” Murray said.
“It should be perfect with how much time I’ve spent with Dani. He knows my game probably better than anyone. I think it’s a huge advantage. With the way Tomas has been playing, I would expect that he would go into the match probably as the slight favourite.”
A generous pinch of salt should be used when considering those comments for while Murray trails Berdych 6-4 in their previous meetings, that US Open clash was arguably their most important, and the Scot won in four sets.
Preparation is one thing, actually carrying out a plan under the pressure of a grand slam semi-final is another and no-one analyses an opponent during a match quite like Murray.
Kyrgios, who had thrilled the home crowd by reaching his second grand slam quarter-final, still before his 20th birthday, was unable to impose his game consistently enough on Murray and as a result, was outplayed.
Serving predominantly to the forehand to open up the court for the backhand worked perfectly and Murray served as well as he has since he won Wimbledon in 2013.
The tricky wind and unseasonably cooler temperature than week one probably didn’t help Kyrgios’s fluency but experience paid dividends for Murray.
Two brilliant lobs helped him win the second-set tie-break 7-5 and then after Kyrgios had broken back for 3-4 in the third, Murray broke him again and served out for victory.
“I’ve always said to people that watching is one thing and seeing someone’s game, but when you actually get on the court with them things are actually a lot different,” he said.
“It seems like you might be able to attack certain areas of someone’s game or something that they do might look really good, but what matters is when you’re on the court can you exploit those things, that weakness?
“It’s completely different when you’re out there on the court, in my opinion. We’ll see how the match plays out and what the tactics are and stuff. But I also know what Dani thinks of Berdych’s game because he’s told me, so it works both ways.”
And there’s the rub. Murray knows Berdych’s game inside out anyway, so apart from a few words here and there, it’s unlikely Vallverdu will make too much difference.
What might make a difference is Berdych’s level of confidence, which must be sky-high after finally ending a 17-match losing streak against Rafa Nadal with a 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 victory.
Nadal, as he’d maintained throughout the tournament, admitted he was undercooked after injury and illness but Berdych got through the mental barrier and with his power, he is always a threat.
But Murray’s confident, too, and having battled through to the last eight 12 months ago, when he was only just rejoining the Tour after back surgery, his state of mind now is completely different.
“I’m happy,” he said. “It’s nice to be in the latter stages of a slam again. I’m happy with that.”
I don’t want to discuss what Dani Vallverdu does well and doesn’t do well because I’m not playing against him. . .Tomas is probably the slight favourite
FACING DOWN A MENTOR: After dispatching Kyrgios, Murray now faces a semi-final against Tomas Berdych, trained by the Scot’s former coach, Dani Vallverdu.