Andy Murray must be loving this. Three days before the start of the Australian Open when the draw was made, no one would have predicted that the world No.3, the Olympic and US Open champion would have strolled into the quarterfinals without dropping a set. And yet here he is, unruffled, untested and with plenty of running left in his legs. Yep, the Muzz must be lovin’ it.
The draw had pitted him – potentially – against the like of Alexandr Dolgopolov or Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic or Juan Martin Del Potro and that was just to get himself to the foot of the huge obstacle that is Roger Federer in the semifinals. Yet, when it came to it, all the awkward cusses knocked each other out and Murray tiptoed through the wreckage without breaking a sweat.
If there is a concern, it is that Scotland’s finest has not been quite as fine as he might have hoped. There is not glaring weakness in his game, it is just that his timing is a bit off. It is a problem that started last Friday during practice and, so far, it has not sorted itself out. Not that Murray or his coach, the meticulous Ivan Lendl, are too worried; when he has needed to pull a belting winner out of his kitbag, he has usually managed to find one.
“Ivan knows that practice days are kind of irrelevant,” Murray said. “It’s the match-days that count. So long as you fire your body up and you move your feet properly and concentrate during the practice, it doesn’t matter how you hit the ball. The more matches you play on the courts, you’re going to feel better, and it’s just good having someone like him to re-emphasise those points on the practice days. He can just remind you of those things and it helps.”
That’s handy because Mr Lendl looks awfully fierce and he is a stickler for details. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of even if you are the world No.3 and 6ft 3in and 84kg of solid muscle.
So now Murray has Jeremy Chardy to deal with if he wants to book his place in the semifinals. His record against the Frenchman is good – his record against pretty much every Frenchman is impressive – and in five meetings, he has only lost once. That defeat came last August in the stifling heat and humidity of Cincinnati and, at the time, the Muzz was feeling a touch jaded.
The day after winning the Olympic gold medal, the greatest achievement of his career to that point, he jumped on a plane and flew to Toronto for the Masters event there. Tired, jetlagged and with his mind still buzzing from London 2012, he played one match and then pulled out of the tournament. The following week, and feeling only marginally better, he lost to Chardy in straight sets in the third round in Cincy. Looking back, he reckons he should never have gone to Canada and, instead, taken a few days off to savour his gold medal moment and let his mind and body recover.
Still, a chap can only learn by experience and now that he has added the US Open to that gold medal, he thinks he has learned enough to deal with any situation in any tournament. Coming into the Australian Open, he certainly felt more relaxed and prepared than ever before even if the usual worries and anxieties kicked in once the tournament started.
“I was certainly very nervous before the first match,” he said, “and when the conditions are like they
were before the second match as well [when he played in 38-degree heat], you’re also going to be nervous because anything can happen on days like that. I’d say it feels the same as other Slams. I just hope that maybe in the second week I’ll feel a bit more comfortable and a bit more experienced having won a Slam and won the big matches. That will help.”
Chardy, the world No.36, has no idea what to expect today. He has never had a run like this at a Grand Slam and having eliminated del Potro in the third round, he is keeping his fingers crossed that he can pull off another giant-killing feat against Murray.
Now coached by Kerei Abakar, his great friend from the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in France, Chardy and Co. are making everything up as they go along at the moment.
Abakar tried his luck as a player and got to around the 800 mark on the rankings list but then he got himself a real job and began a business studies course in Paris. But, still, he had a hankering to try his hand at coaching and so, five years ago, he joined the Mouratoglou Academy. He and Chardy became friends – he is only a couple of years older than his charge – and then, 18 months ago, the two men decided to strike out by themselves. The rest is, as they say, history. Claiming Murray’s scalp last year gave them confidence while facing the Scot against in the last eight of a Grand Slam just proves that they are on the right path.
“I win already against Andy, so it's good for the confidence when you go on court,” Chardy said hopefully. “Last year I play a perfect match against him. But best-of-five sets is more difficult because it's tough to win three sets in a row against big player. They have a chance to come back all the time, to change the game.
“It will be another match, a very tough match. So I have to continue on this way. If I have a chance, I have to try to take it because I think Andy is one of the best players.”
Chardy will be no pushover but, with all due respect to the Frenchman, he is not quite the challenge the draw had planned for Murray at this stage in the competition. Oh yes, Murray will be loving this.