Australian Open: Murray d. Haase

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Andy Murray kept two impressive streaks alive in his opening match today on Rod Laver Arena: He won his eighth straight match at a Slam (he’s actually 21-1 in major single-elimination tournaments since the start of Wimbledon, a run that includes triumphs at the Olympic Games and U.S. Open). And he has yet to be gifted with an outfit that makes him look good.

Perhaps that latter assignment is an impossible mission, but I doubt Murray would trade places with Robin Haase, even if it meant swapping his latest bile yellow-and-white kit for that nice sky-blue-and-white outfit worn by the curly-headed Dutchman. Not if he also had to swap his shots for Haase’s wild groundstrokes, questionable focus, and tepid fighting spirit.

Murray clobbered Haase, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, in a one-hour and 38-minute sprint into the second round. The world No. 3 broke early and often, so the match wasn’t as close as the already cringe-inducing score indicated. In fact, it also wasn’t as close as the stats suggest. I’m not sure how you trail in winners by only 25 to 18, and lead in unforced errors by a not particularly striking 35-20, as Haase did, and still manage to look like you were never in it.

I suppose that winning few of the points that really mattered has something to do with it, but in that regard it’s more instructive, as well as more accurate, to point out that Murray happened to play those points like...a guy who hasn’t lost a match in a major tournament since the Wimbledon final.

The blowout began quickly. Murray jumped to a 4-1 lead, then fended off three break points to keep his two-break lead intact. He was then broken for the first of just two times, but held to lock up the first set. Murray broke again at the start of the second set, and soon added another break and a hold to go up 5-1. This time, he closed out Haase with no further drama.

Haase’s major problem was twofold: He couldn’t keep up with the pace of Murray’s aggressive baseline game, and even when he did, he couldn’t do it consistently enough to force an error out of the free-swinging Scot. You have to feel for Haase, who at a lean 6’3” is a player built along the same lines as Murray, with a somewhat comparable baseline style. It’s just that Murray does everything better, more of the time, and with a far greater degree of imagination and panache.

One sequence of points in the fifth game of the second set was instructive. Up 30-15, Haase delivered a 138 K.P.H. serve that the commentator aptly said “got what it deserved”—a spanking cross-court backhand return by Murray for a winner. Murray drilled the next serve so deep and hard that Haase got his feet tangled and shanked a forehand out of the field of play. To his credit, Haase fended off the ensuing break point, but a backhand volley winner off an excellent approach, followed by a Haase error after a high-speed rally, earned Murray the break.

In the third set...oh, I think you get it by now. It was more of the same. Murray’s outstanding stats were his 73 percent first-serve conversion percentage and a solid eight-of-13 break-point conversions (Haase converted just two of seven). But any hope that Murray might tear off his shirt and toss it into the crowd went unrealized. We’ll have to see it again, but that’s okay—everything else about Murray these days is pleasantly riveting.

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