On Bonfire Night, Andy Murray’s blue touchpaper finally lit in a stuttering, faltering effort against world number six Tomas Berdych. The match, the first in the round-robin stages of the World Tour Finals at the O2, demonstrated the importance of the first serve, which the Scot finally found in set three, to run out a 3-6 6-3 6-4 winner.
This encounter was pretty much do or die, with the loser facing the prospect of a survival match against new world number one, Novak Djokovic, in the Boris Becker-styled “group of death”.
Murray began in fine style, sweeping away the first point of the match for a backhand service-return winner. It was a false dawn. With a first-serve strike rate of just 45% and a startling inability to convert numerous break points, the US Open champion conceded his serve at 2-3 amid a welter of lame netted forehands.
With the Czech star serving at 5-3, Murray again fought his way to break points, only to be denied by powerhouse serving and some stupendous drive volleys that will surely have made the Czech’s coach, Tomas Krupa, consider building in more net forays to their training plans. Berdych sealed the game with a swinging forehand out wide, leaving Murray to reflect on six unconverted break points and 11 unforced forehand errors.Read more (245 words)
Set two was a mirror image of the first, with Murray finally taking Berdych’s serve on his tenth break point of the match to lead 3-1. The Scot was now playing on his own terms, outmanoeuvring Berdych like a cat dancing around a Panzer tank.
The British number one continued to swing Berdych wide and pull him in short, turning the big Czech inside out with hitting that was by turns wide and deep, then teasing and short. The Scot served out at 5-3 to set up a must-win, one-set shootout that would surely decide the fate of both men at this tournament.
Murray fans needn’t have worried. The Scot’s first serve came alive in spectacular fashion, with a flurry of service winners and aces and an astonishing 100% first-serve success rate. Murray broke at 2-1, moving the match sweetly from heavy artillery to pomp and artistry.
From here, the world number three never looked in serious trouble, although a double-fault stumble at 5-4, 40-15 when serving out the match reminded fans of his recent difficulties in converting match points. Obligingly, though, Berdych settled the crowd’s nerves with a weak netted backhand at 40-30 and Murray was punching the air in delight, knowing that his qualification was half achieved.
Murray has a strong record against Tsonga. However, he’ll be motivated to go all-out against Djokovic, too, to try to remove him from the tournament – and rack up another 200 precious ranking points into the bargain.