Australian Open: Murray d. Berankis

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“Nonsense, just nonsense ... garbage ... shocking.”

You would have thought, from the snippets of Andy Murray’s furious soliloquy during the change of ends, that the world No. 3 was playing the worst match of his life rather than leading by a set and pushing his opponent hard on serve. It was, in all honesty, far from Murray’s best tennis, but he still won in straight sets to move into the fourth round, beating Ricardas Berankis 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena.

On a day which saw Juan Martin del Potro and Marin Cilic, potential quarterfinal opponents for Murray, fall to lower-ranked players, the importance of having a B-game still strong enough to win as cannot be overestimated. Berankis, a former top-ranked junior who has been seriously hampered with injuries over the past couple of years, made a nervous start to the match, broken to love to fall behind 0-3. But he settled himself quickly, and with Murray struggling for timing on his groundstrokes, Berankis began to showcase his nimble, spring-heeled movement and flashes of unexpected creativity which highlight his game. Lacking an overpowering shot to finish off a long baseline exchange with Murray, Berankis hooked a surprising short-angled forehand cross-court to earn two points to break back.

It was the beginning of a match in which Berankis would have ample opportunities to break, and in which Murray’s ability to serve his way out of trouble saved him from the consequences of a ground game which was uncharacteristically at sea. Unable to dictate with groundstrokes, Murray started playing the kind of tennis which was his bread-and-butter in his younger years, taking pace off the ball and seducing his opponent into going for winners—a tactic that explains some, if not all, of Berankis' high unforced error numbers. Coupled with decent first-serve numbers, it was enough to protect Murray’s second serve—which was on particularly woeful form today—and keep the his nose in front, hanging on to the early break for the first set and breaking at the opportune moment to serve out the second.

Berankis and Murray have practiced together many times in the past, and the Scot displayed all the hallmarks of understanding his opponent’s game. He anticipated the Lithuanian’s charge into net and putting a testing slice cross-court to elicit the error and get the break early in the third. Murray frequently had to dig himself out of (largely) self-inflicted trouble on serve, but on a day when you know you’re not playing well against someone you should beat, I suppose you do what you have to get yourself through it.

After a poor attempt at serving out the match saw Berankis break back, Murray gathered himself and found a backhand down the line—the one shot he had consistently been missing or avoiding playing all match—to break back to love, and produced one of his finest service games of the match to finish it. He will be hoping to find some of that inexplicably missing timing on the practice court before his next match.

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