Patience is a virtue, and Andy Murray certainly utilized it in his fourth round match against 6’9” American John Isner. Murray has never been past the fourth round in Melbourne, so the prospect of the best returner in the game going up against one of the best servers in the game was more than tantalising.
Murray has been guilty of going for a brief, mental walkabout during his last three matches, but from the off, he looked razor sharp, and was unfazed by the barrage of laser-guided missiles being pelted at him from Isner’s racket. Murray slowed his first serve down, and in doing so made it far more consistent than in previous rounds. He was the one holding to love while slowly making inroads during Isner’s service games.
As Murray began to tame Isner’s big weapon, he also exposed the American’s mobility issues with the drop shot, and catching him out with slices aimed at Isner’s shoelaces.
A tense first set gave both players only one unconverted break point each. At 5-6, Murray served to take it to a tiebreak, but forgot his game-plan of slowing the first serve to get it in. Predictably, faults crept in, and he soon found himself in trouble, but managed to serve himself out of it.
The Scot took the first mini-break to go 3-2 up, but lost the next point. He held the next, and then took the next two points from Isner’s serve, earning two set points. Isner saved one, but Murray rarely needs asking twice to do anything on a tennis court, and secured the set on the next.
Murray pressed harder in the second set, getting more chances to break than the first, but failing to convert. Instead of letting it fester in his mind, he waited patiently. It would come. At 4-4, it did. Yet once again, Murray went for bigger serves that missed, and once again had to serve himself out of a hole to take the second set.
The uncharacteristically muted Aussie crowd were finally roused to life at 2-2 in the third set. Isner was serving at 0-30, by now unable to get as many cheap points from aces. A Murray lob proved an easy smash for Isner, but Murray sprinted back across the width of the court and leaped into the air to send the ball back to a startled Isner, who could only dump it in the net.
This set up three break points for Murray, who only needed the one with a stunning backhand down the line hit from the shadows at the back of the court and outside the tramlines. Even Isner’s coach could only doff his hat to Murray’s skill.
A Murray hold was followed by another break of the Isner serve, and Murray served the match out, finishing once again with a gorgeous drop shot.
The first week of the Open has been a promising taster of what we can expect from Murray’s game this year. More forays into the net, a flatter and faster forehand, and a more proactive approach all around. His low winners count in this match was down to his opponent’s wingspan covering the whole court, and tempered by the huge number of errors from Isner.
Murray’s slam record last year had been tarnished by on-form players with big forehands and big serves. Perhaps this match will be the concrete proof that he can beat such players. Isner was the biggest test Murray has faced so far, and there will be bigger threats to come. If Murray can play another three matches like this…