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