Andy Murray was a walkover winner in the third round and found himself getting the runaround today. Clever counter puncher Gilles Simon squeezed shots inside the lines to earn three break points in the opening game. The baseline duel dragged on and on before Murray finally held serve after 17 minutes of play. The fourth-seeded Scot asked for an ice towel during the ensuing changeover; you wondered if smelling salts would be next.
Ultimately, Murray drew on his patience and physicality to grind down the slender Frenchman, 6-3, 6-4, and advance to the Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinals. It was Murray's ninth straight win over Simon, whose style is sometimes described as "Murray Lite." While it's often an oversimplification to brand one player in the image of another (though I've always believed former Miami finalist Thomas Muster modeled his heavy topspin game on his childhood hero, Guillermo Vilas) the similarities between the pair are clear: Both men are brilliant ball strikers on the run, both are at their best on the counter-attack, both wear adidas apparel and swing Head racquets, and both have soft hands—and sometimes lapse into ornery outbursts.
The 6'3" Scot is four inches taller and about 33 pounds heavier than his 27-year-old opponent, and imposed his size and strength advantage—as well as his fitness-honed training in the Miami heat—to eventually push Simon out of position on pivotal points. Murray, who was a bit cautious at the start after seeing Simon whip a few running winners past him, began to assert his authority in rallies, which often spanned more than 20 shots in the first set. Murray won a 19-shot rally to break at love for a 3-1 lead, winning 10 consecutive points in stretching the lead to 4-1. After a demanding opening game, Murray never faced another break point and sealed the 54-minute first set with a second-serve ace down the middle.
Beneath his thick thatch of brown hair, Simon has the youthful face of a choir boy, but changes speeds with the shrewd sense of a con man. At his best, Simon casually lulls opponents into a false sense of security with off-pace shots before suddenly striking with flat darts down the lines. The problem for Simon, who served just 41 percent, is that Murray is well aware of his strengths and was largely effective at muting them. The bigger problem is that everything Simon does, Murray can do a bit better.
Though Simon gamely worked out of triple break point to hold for a 3-2 second-set edge, Murray immediately applied pressure in his next service game, breaking at 15 for 4-2. Simon's best shot to get back on serve came in the eighth game, but Murray sliced an ace wide for 40-30, then scraped a fine forehand lob into the corner to hold for 5-3. The 2009 Miami champion closed in style, cracking his fourth ace to end a one hour and 46 minute match. Next up for Murray is a quarterfinal clash with Janko Tipsarevic. Murray has won four of seven meetings with the ninth-seeded Serbian.