Time for talk is over as Czech mate awaits

Mur­ray in­sists fa­mil­iar face not a fac­tor


THE prepa­ra­tions are com­plete and the talk­ing is over; when Andy Mur­ray and To­mas Berdych take to the court at around 8.30am to­day, UK time, for their Aus­tralian Open semi-fi­nal, all that mat­ters is per­form­ing un­der pres­sure and deal­ing with the oc­ca­sion.

For Mur­ray, it’s the chance to get to a fourth Aus­tralian Open fi­nal and an eighth grand slam fi­nal in all; for Berdych, the op­por­tu­nity to reach his sec­ond grand slam fi­nal, still chas­ing his first ma­jor ti­tle.

It’s hard to know for whom the match mat­ters most, but even though he has two grand slam tro­phies in his locker while Berdych’s re­mains empty, the sus­pi­cion is that Mur­ray is the one with most to gain.

Hav­ing taken time to get back to full health and full fit­ness after back surgery in Septem­ber 2013, it seems that the next 12 months could be vi­tal for Mur­ray in terms of his over­all ca­reer.

At 27, he still has at least three or four years at the top but with the toll on the body ever-in­creas­ing in the mod­ern game, it’s tough to see the Scot “do­ing a Roger Fed­erer” and hang­ing around to­wards his mid-30s.

If that’s what hap­pens, then Mur­ray may have 12 to16 grand slams where he is a le­git­i­mate con­tender, so hav­ing worked his way in to a 15th grand slam semi-fi­nal – the best record ever by a Bri­ton and the 12th best over­all – he will be des­per­ate to take his chance.

“My body feels very good, the best it’s felt in a long time,” Mur­ray wrote in his col­umn with Mel­bourne news­pa­per The Age on Thurs­day.

“I felt that the match against Grigor Dim­itrov on Sun­day night was im­por­tant for me be­cause of the level it was played at and be­cause to beat a player of that qual­ity who is al­ways im­prov­ing and an up-and-comer was im­por­tant for me.

“I’ve been pretty happy with the way I’ve played so far – my body feels good and I feel ready.”

Much has been said and writ­ten about the ef­fect that see­ing Dani Val­lverdu, Mur­ray’s friend and for­mer as­sis­tant coach, in the Berdych camp will have on the match.

It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble that it will give Berdych con­fi­dence, even if what­ever Val­lverdu can tell him about the Mur­ray game is hardly likely to be a state se­cret, given that the pair have played each other 10 times in their ca­reers.

Both Mur­ray and Val­lverdu ad­mit it will be odd see­ing the Venezue­lan in another player’s box, but Mur­ray knows bet­ter than any­one that in the end, it will come down to who copes best with the pres­sure and the con­di­tions.

“I think one thing I would say is that To­mas will be 30 this year (and) it’s very dif­fi­cult to change your habits and the way you do things at that age,” he said.

“There are im­prove­ments you can make, but cer­tain ten­den­cies and habits, things that you’ve been do­ing your whole ca­reer, are very dif­fi­cult to change.

“So, you just have to go with what you know. Maybe there will be a few things here and there that Dani may be able to help him with and a few things that I know that Dani thinks about To­mas’ game as well. So you just get on with it.”

Mur­ray will have been the hap­pier of the two to see the weather fore­cast for Thurs­day evening in Mel­bourne pre­dict­ing strong winds be­tween 25 and 35kph.

With his high ball toss on serve and his flat ground strokes, Berdych could strug­gle, as he did when the two played in strong winds in the semi-fi­nals of the US Open in New York in 2012.

But of all the rea­sons to ex­pect another good Mur­ray per­for­mance, per­haps the best is that he looks happy within him­self.

His wed­ding to long-term girl­friend Kim Sears later this year has put a smile on the usu­ally shy Mur­ray’s face.

And his bur­geon­ing re­la­tion­ship with coach Amelie Mau­resmo has con­vinced him he made the right choice when he ap­pointed the for­mer world No 1 last sum­mer, three months after his part­ner­ship with Ivan Lendl ended.

A rel­a­tively sen­si­tive soul, Mur­ray plays best when he’s at his hap­pi­est off the court.

Mur­ray and Mau­resmo have been laugh­ing and jok­ing to­gether and the two-time grand slam cham­pion is de­lighted with the way they’ve gelled, par­tic­u­larly with some new train­ing pat­terns and the French­woman’s tac­ti­cal in­put.

As he did in 2012 in New York and in 2013 – when he won Wim­ble­don, Mur­ray is at­tack­ing more, dom­i­nat­ing with his ground strokes. His serve – hav­ing gone back to his old tech­nique – has been work­ing su­perbly through­out the fort­night.

With his strong serve and flat, hard-hit ground strokes, Berdych is a match for any­one on his day, as he showed when fi­nally beat­ing Rafael Nadal in the pre­vi­ous round, hav­ing lost in their pre­vi­ous 17 meet­ings.

Greg Rused­ski, the for­mer Bri­tish No 1, be­lieves it could go the dis­tance.

“If it’s windy and blus­tery that favours Mur­ray be­cause he has a lit­tle bit more mar­gin but if the con­di­tions are calm it will suit Berdych as he can make a hole through any­body. This will be a ma­jor test for Mur­ray.”

GOOD REACH: Mur­ray signs au­to­graphs in a prac­tice ses­sion in Mel­bourne

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