Monday, September 3, 2012
Andy Murray's confidence swelling
By Greg Garber ESPN.com
NEW YORK -- He is not a member of the big three -- there won't be any discussion of a big four until he wins his first major -- but Andy Murray is certainly trending in that direction.
Winning Olympic gold in London earlier this summer, at the All England Club with the great Roger Federer on the other side of the net, was his finest match win. As spectacular as that was, his consistency of late has been nearly as impressive.
For the first time, Andy Murray truly looks like the kind of player who can crack the threshold and join the big three.
After his clinical 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Milos Raonic on Monday night, Murray has now reached the quarterfinals of the past eight Grand Slam events. His game was in full flower as he dispatched a 21-year-old Canadian (via Montenegro) who, going forward, certainly will challenge him in matches that mean much more.
Raonic hit 14 aces, and one of his scorched offerings hit 140 mph on the radar, but to be perfectly honest, Murray toyed with the ATP World Tour's No. 16-ranked player. This highly anticipated match within the tennis fraternity was surprisingly one-sided.
The variety and diversity of Murray's attack was breathtaking. There were times when Raonic, who had several awkward ankle rolls, looked clumsy. For years, Murray centered the ball under duress. Now, with his confidence swelling, he goes for the lines. Instead of stepping off the gas, as he has in the past, Murray's concentration was in lockdown.
"I used a lot of variation tonight," Murray said afterward. "Milos has a massive game. I had to guess sometimes. I was lucky, because they fly past you and sometimes you get a racket on it. Tonight I got a racket on it."
It's tempting to think that they've been avoiding each other.
They were scheduled to meet three times previously this year, but only one match actually came off. Raonic bailed from their match in Miami with an ankle injury, and early last month Murray cited a knee injury in pulling out in Toronto. The only time they met, Raonic prevailed on clay in the Barcelona quarterfinals.
Murray and Raonic, despite his tender age, both have impressive tennis IQs. They think their way through points with a cool, schematic approach. This nuanced match in the largest stadium in tennis, under the surface of sizzling serves and ferocious forehands, was fascinating to watch.
Sometimes it was hard to remember that Raonic won his first match ever at the U.S. Open only six days ago. And he overcame a one-set, one-break deficit against Santiago Giraldo to do it.
It was hardly surprising, then, that Murray's experience ultimately delivered the first set.
Raonic's serve is his calling card; he came into the match with 89 aces in three matches -- 21 better than Nicolas Almagro, who had played four. His fastest serve was clocked at 143 mph, one off the tournament high established by John Isner.
But the 25-year-old Scotsman has a terrific service return, and he plays games with the server by constantly moving his position around the court.
Serving at 4-all, Raonic's serve faltered. He double-faulted twice, once baited by Murray, who seemed to line up way wide, inviting a down-the-middle offering that was just a little too hot. Murray had three break points and finally converted the third when he slapped a little crosscourt shot that Raonic couldn't track down.
Murray's key break in the second set came in the fifth game. With Raonic hurtling into net yet again, Murray struck a short, set backhand down -- and, actually, on -- the line to earn two break points. He cashed the second when an unforced Raonic forehand found the net. The last ball of the set was an ace down the middle that caught a fraction of the line.
Murray did not face a break point in the match. Afterward, Murray said tournament organizers had told him that rain would move into the area around 9:30 p.m. Murray, playing with that sense of urgency, closed the match in exactly 2 hours -- before 9:45 local time.
The momentum, clearly, is behind Murray. With Rafael Nadal resting his sore knees at home, this is his opening. He's close.
He's been to the finals of four majors now, including a loss to Federer at Wimbledon earlier this year. Marin Cilic, whom he's beaten six of seven times, including the fourth round at 2012 Wimbledon, is the opponent in the quarterfinals. Federer, most likely, would await in the semifinals. Djokovic, presumably, would be lurking in the final.
That's a tough draw, but to break the Federer/Djokovic/Nadal monopoly, someone's got to beat two of the three. Why not Murray?