55. Off-court worry for Andy Murray in Melbourne win

This post was first published by Ubitennis on 23 January 2016 at the following link.

Andy Murray secured his place in the fourth round of the Australian Open with a closer-than-anticipated 6-2 3-6 6-2 6-2 win over Joao Sousa, the number 32 seed.

However, it is events off-court that will be a concern to Murray: during Murray’s match on the Margaret Court Arena, his father-in-law, Nigel Sears, who is Ana Ivanovic’s coach, collapsed in the Rod Laver Arena, while watching Ivanovic play her third round match. Sears was stretchered out of the arena, but, according to the local broadcaster Channel 7, was breathing and conscious. Murray played on unaware of what had happened nor of the terrible worry this must have caused his pregnant wife Kim. Thankfully, Murray was led off-court at the end of the match rather than having an on-court interview and will have found out privately. Murray reportedly made his way straight to the hospital where Sears had been taken and was not required to give a post-match press conference.

The match itself was closer than many people had thought. The omens were not good for Sousa. Murray and Sousa were meeting for a seventh time and for a third time at the Australian Open. Murray led their head to head 6-0, including 15-1 in sets, and 2 matches in Melbourne where Sousa had cobbled together 15 games and broken Murray just once.

However, the opening 5 games were tight. Murray had to save 2 break points with big first serves and could make no impression on the Sousa serve. The sixth game, however, encapsulated the relative skills of both players and even if Murray breaking did not result in a straight sets victory, it was evidence that Murray’s variety and quality over the course of five sets (even if uneven today) would put too much pressure on Sousa’s groundstrokes.

Murray showed stunning speed to chase down and flick a winner off a Sousa drop shot. This was followed by: a forehand unforced error from the Portuguese; a back hand cross court taken early for a clean winner from Murray; and then a backhand unforced error from the Portuguese to give up the break. When Sousa was under pressure he had no big serve to go to escape danger. This put additional pressure on his groundstrokes to the extent that each unforced error carried greater potentially weight for him than for Murray. Murray raced through the remainder of the set, winning 15 of the last 18 points, breaking his opponent a second time to take the set 6-2.

That the first set did not put the match to bed though is down to the resilience and well-targeted aggression of the Portuguese number one. Using his forehand, either inside-out or inside-in, Sousa was able to extract errors from Murray to break at the start of the second set. He continued his fine play, hitting 10 winners, capitalised on 16 unforced errors from Murray, and broke for a second time at the end of the set to take it 6-3.

Murray wrested back control of the match in the third set breaking at the outset, highlighted by world-class retrieval in a rally that Sousa was otherwise dominating. Murray broke for a second time in the sixth game coming out on top in a 22 shot rally in the process of coming back from 40-0 down.

Sousa remained competitive at the start of the fourth set, again keeping Murray off balance. But in the fifth game, a combination of aggressive returning and sublime backhands secured for Murray the decisive break. He broke again in the seventh game and served out the match 6-2.

This meeting continued another unfortunate trend for Sousa: it is now 7 times in the last 10 grand slams he’s run into (and been defeated by) one of Djokovic, Murray or Wawrinka.

This was not Murray at his best: there were too many unforced errors off the backhand wing for that. However, given events off-court, he will not mind a bit.

In the fourth round Murray goes on to face the winner of Bernie Tomic and John Millman, an all-Australian clash set for Saturday’s final match on Rod Laver Arena.

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