Australian open/Melbourne: Andy Murray, playing the sort of disciplined tennis he refined under Ivan Lendl and has slowly rediscovered with Amélie Mauresmo, turned back the passionate challenge of the outstanding Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios in straight sets to reach his fifth semi-final in 10 visits to the Australian open.
There he will meet Tomas Berdych, coached now by Dani Vallverdu, who parted company with Murray only two months ago. It should be an interesting encounter, to say the least.
Murray need all his best tennis in tough conditions to beat Kyrgios 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 in just over two hours in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena.
“It was a tricky match, pretty windy, tough for both of us,” he said. “I tried to start as quickly as possible because I know how dangerous Nick is. He’s a huge hitter so I tried to keep it out of his strike zone and also it was windy tonight, so I used a lot of slice.
“Try not to put too much pressure on him. He needs to be allowed to mature and develop. Growing up in the spotlight isn’t easy and he’s doing a great job so far. He’s got a world-class serve and an easy motion, so he doesn’t put any stress on his body. Not many people have reached three quarter-finals at slams at his age [in fact only two]. Berdych is another big, big hitter of the ball. I don’t think he’s dropped a set.”
Kyrgios had won a new title before he hit a ball, announced as the Wonder From Down Under, to go with the Wild Thing, a crown only recently bestowed by the tournament broadcaster, Channel 7.
Two Murray aces, wide and down the middle, and another unreturnable serve made up for perhaps the worst drop shot of the tournament in a typically quirky start. Kyrgios held to love, also acing, and they were getting free points at one a minute in a light, swirling breeze that looked difficult to tame.
The serve clearly was the weapon most likely to hurt, the aces flowed (Kyrgios passing 100 for the tournament) and it was nine minutes before the kid with two nicknames conceded a point with ball in hand, wrong-footed at the net in the fourth game.
Murray got the first break point, after 17 minutes, but Kyrgios found a 201kph (120mph) ace to save. However, the teenager’s patience cracked at the end of a rare long rally and he stuck a backhand in the tramlines for Murray to lead 4-2.
Judicious deployment of the slow-towel wipe between points and a couple of challenges frustrated the fast-serving Kyrgios, who was warned for an audible obscenity in the eighth game, but he held, forcing Murray to serve out the set after 32 minutes, courtesy of a generous call on a second serve that looked a couple of inches long.
When Murray turned Kyrgios with a perfect lob, the Australian scampered after it but his desperate swish could do no more than plant it in the upper tier, where it was beautifully caught in the crowd and then lobbed back on the court. Kyrgios smiled, and cries of “Nicky! Nicky!” filled the chill air. He was enjoying all aspects of the experience (maybe the teasing lobs less than the crowd banter).
Kyrgios hits his forehand as if it is a statement of his manhood, all dressed up with deep-lunged exhortations, defying his opponent to hit it back harder if he dare. Murray dared.
It must have been slightly odd for Murray to see an opponent across the net behaving as he once did before he worked out how to channel his emotions.
Kyrgios has still got a lot to learn and the best player the Australians have had since Lleyton Hewitt could profit from not trying to emulate some of 2002 Wimbledon champion’s old traits (long since eradicated, it should be added). The muttered oaths and a couple of racket bounces betrayed his growing impatience when things went wrong – and Murray’s towel wipes just got slower.
Kyrgios’s response were some marginal grunts, made a second or so after the shot, bordering on “hindrance”, and Murray gave the umpire a knowing look after one such utterance.
Kyrgios hit the first double fault of the match on the hour, but held for 4-3 and gestured with a clenched fist towards his increasingly vocal supporters.
They exchanged love service games and Murray needed to hold to stay in the set – which he did to love with an ace. Kyrgios brought the crowd to their feet with a delightful side-spun drop shot for 6-5, but Murray forced the tie-break, and this is territory where he usually feels comfortable.
Kyrgios risked an automatic code violation when he smashed his racket at 5-6 and went to his bag for a replacement, tacit admission of his automatic guilt – but Murray settled any doubt with another exquisite lob for a two-set lead.
Murray was in charge and Kyrgios, who had not forced a break all night, surely knew he would have to gamble to get back in the match. He was behind in the service cycle, as well as the psychological war that had developed every so subtly, Murray prodding here and there, Kyrgios giving vent to his emotions with full-throated gusto.
Andy Murray beats Nick Kyrgios to reach Australian Open semis
The lob, which Murray had used to great effect all night, set up his break for 4-2 in the third, as Kyrgios’s back-running ’tweener did no more than sit up for the put-away at the net.
Kyrgios, an admirable fighter as well as a showman, finally got a break point in the seventh game of the third set, but framed a forehand that went so high Murray had to wait at least two seconds before it came down for his smash – which almost decapitated Kyrgios, who had run to the net, where he illegally held his racket up on the wrong side of the divide.
They laughed – but Murray was furious with himself when he netted a backhand to drop serve; and relieved when he broke back immediately to serve for the match; and ecstatic when he sealed it with an emphatic forehand from mid-court.