By Tom Kelly
In all honesty the Miami Masters of 2013 should not have been a great success for tennis. With the legends that are Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal not competing and the best player in the world Novak Djokovic crashing out in the fourth round; Andy Murray’s victory would appear to be no more than a formality. However this was far from another example of the dictator like grasp that the so called ‘Big Four’ have on the ATP Tour.
The excitement and brilliance of the spectacle that gripped Miami was enough to divert eyes away from the ever-nearing start of the French Open and even away from the remarkable undefeated run of the NBA’s Miami Heat.
Under the baking American sun, one witnessed an underdog story without the happiest of endings as Tommy Haas’ remarkable run of breath-taking tennis fell just short to the little Spanish terrier David Ferrer in the semi-finals. We witnessed moments of brilliance at regular occurrence, not least from the racquet of mercurial Frenchman Richard Gasquet and his continental rival Haas who both left crowds aghast on their way to the last four.
Few would have predicted a final four of Murray, Ferrer, Gasquet and Haas, yet no one was to be left disappointed. Unfortunately for Haas, the iron will of David Ferrer was too much for the German underdog who eventually succumbed 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 after some brilliant ball striking from the baseline in the first set.
For Gasquet, Miami was arguably a perfect illustration of a career that promises so much, but has yet to deliver. After dealing with the considerable threat of Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals, the Frenchman outplayed Murray in the opening set of their semi-finals. It was only Murray’s belligerence that took Gasquet into a tie-break in which the very best of Gasquet’s talents were showcased with pick-ups that almost beggared belief. However within seconds of claiming the first set, the dark side of Gasquet was to re-emerge. Microphones around the court picked up Gasquet requesting that a ball boy ensure the racquet with which he had just won the set would be ready for the deciding third set. In the past, Gasquet’s mentality has been questioned but almost expecting to lose a second set after a successful first borders on the ridiculous. Unsurprisingly Gasquet’s game unravelled quickly and his relatively weak forehand was picked upon ruthlessly by the ultimate competitor that Andy Murray is becoming.
Onto a sun-backed Sunday final and Murray versus Ferrer once again served up a cracker of a spectacle. One would be hard pushed to find a Ferrer performance that matched the opening few games as the Spaniard roared into a 4-0 lead; Murray was not even playing badly. It was a performance from Ferrer which might have battered a previous version of Andy Murray into shock, frustration and ultimately anger. However the Lendl-inspired Scot is now a big game player. Although it would be a crass exaggeration to say the shouting matches with his corner are long gone, there seems to be a sense of self control about the Murray of 2013. Murray’s Djokovic-esque mannerisms on court during the final; the clutching and stretching of back and leg muscles and the forlorn looks after long points may not be the most subtle of psychological games to utilise on an opponent, but they are a step forward. Undoubtedly they are superior to the bursts of rage that were once so common during Murray’s low points. Such rages only used to spur opponents on to greater heights; Murray is now learning how to beat players mentally, and not just physically.
The evidence of such development was as clear as day in the final set, Ferrer had played some miraculous tennis and had worked a match point in the final game but this did not matter. As soon as the tie-break was called, there was an unnerving inevitability that Murray was not going to lose the match, and so it proved.
It is this new side of Murray that means, even as we head onto the red clay of Roland Garros, he must be considered a favourite to lift what would be his second Grand Slam championship. With his victory in Miami, the new world number two has given himself the opportunity of avoiding Nadal, Federer and Djokovic before the final if the draw goes his way. Add this to working alongside a clay-court master in Ivan Lendl and you will find it difficult to bet against Murray making it a remarkable fourth Grand Slam final in a row. Roll on the clay, roll on Roland Garros.