Australian Open: Murray d. Chardy

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Has Andy Murray mastered the art of peaking at the right time during Slams? It’s difficult to say, but after a couple of shaky performances, he played his best tennis of the tournament today to defeat Jeremy Chardy, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2, and move into the semifinals for the fourth straight year.

Chardy’s run at this tournament has been memorable—he provided the biggest upset on the men’s side by knocking out Juan Martin del Potro and backing it up against Andreas Seppi—but his tennis today was a bit like his career thus far: Flashes of undeniable brilliance, but not really adding up to very much in the end. In his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, the lithe Frenchman made a disastrous start, opening the match with two double faults and a poor backhand volley to be broken in the first game. Murray raced to a 4-0 lead in 17 minutes and looked on course for a straightforward victory.

Chardy settled himself, finding some of that giant-killing form and working the reliable combination of slicing to his opponent’s backhand, giving himself time to set up for his huge forehand. It worked, as did his willingness to approach the net, and he broke back as Murray attempted to counter acute slice with even cuter slice and hit the net. After two forehand errors from Murray at 4-3 gave Chardy 30-30, the Scot had to lift his game and he did, landing two unreturnable serves and a thumping ace to hold. He then recovered from a 0-30 deficit in his next service game to seal the set.

The second set looked like it might go the same way as the first, with a 4-1 lead for Murray threatening to vanish after Chardy earned two break points on Murray’s serve. Both were saved with Murray scrambling and retrieving at the back of the court while his opponent was planted at net; the British No. 1 passed Chardy to save the first, then kept himself in the second with a defensive lob only for the Frenchman to ultimately fluff the volley. Murray’s eventual hold for 5-1 with his fifth ace broke the back of the match as well as Chardy’s resistance. Hampered by an increasingly errant ball toss, Chardy double-faulted the second set away, and despite one final break of Murray’s serve was never really a factor in the third.

Chardy said after the match that he didn’t think he played badly but that Murray was too good. It seems a fair assessment, particularly as Murray found the timing off the ground that he had been missing in his third-round match against Richard Berankis, and a bit of the killer instinct that was lacking against the out-of-shape Gilles Simon in the round of sixteen. Murray is now on a nine-match winning streak in 2013 and has yet to concede a set in Melbourne, but a more serious worry is the fact that he hasn’t really faced a top-flight or particularly challenging opponent heading into the semifinals, where he will face either Roger Federer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, either of whom will present a much more serious test.

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