Playing in front of a home crowd for the first time since his Olympic triumph this summer, Andy Murray kicked off the 2012 ATP World Tour Finals in London by recovering from a sluggish start to beat Tomas Berdych, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Murray’s results haven’t been brilliant since his U.S. Open conquest—he’s developed a bad habit of losing after holding match points—and he was patently far from his best today. Not that Berdych made a sparkling start: Hitting the ball quite softly in an apparent attempt to feel his way into the conditions, a double-fault and a strong first two points by Murray saw the Czech give up the first two of 11 break points for the match in his first service game.
The distinguishing feature of the first set, however, was how well Berdych played with his back against the wall, and he saved both break points with huge serves. At 2-2, Murray had more chances as Berdych went down 0-40 before once again pulling out the classic, devastating combination of big first serves and unplayable second shots to hold.
With five break points gone, Murray’s frustration was evident, and he lost any semblance of precision on his forehand. A slick foray into net earned Berdych three break points; unlike his opponent, Murray could not keep escaping out from under the cosh. A sixth break point was squandered with an ill-advised drop shot, and Berdych served out the first set courtesy of Murray’s eighth unforced forehand error.
All signs pointed to a thoroughly deflating beginning to the round-robin stages at the O2 Arena, but it was then Berdych’s turn to waste a golden opportunity and have it affect his focus. At 1-1 on Murray’s serve, 30-40, the Brit put in a soft second serve that begged to be hit, but Berdych could not make the return. Revitalized after holding, Murray suddenly found some screaming forehands, racing to three break points, and a pair of errors from the unexpectedly erratic Berdych forehand gifted the crowd favorite the break to lead 3-1.
From that point on, Berdych slowly imploded, while Murray gathered himself together, taking the second set and breaking early in the third. He played farther up on the baseline and started mixing up the play by coming to the net, a place where he outstrips Berdych in touch if not in wingspan. While Murray’s first serve wasn’t overwhelmingly accurate—55 percent for the match—it gained effectiveness until he won all 11 points played behind it in the third set.
Meanwhile, Berdych’s lack of a penetrating or reliable second-serve return continued to dog him, and although he kept it close after giving up the early break, the nearest he got to breaking Murray’s serve was when the U.S. Open champ double-faulted on match point. Murray’s reaction after Berdych hit the net on the subsequent point was as much about relief as euphoria; now he doesn’t have to face Novak Djokovic with one loss already weighing around his neck. That particular treat will be reserved for Berdych.