Coming off a five-set defeat of German Philipp Kohlschreiber that lasted more than four hours, Andy Murray needed to find a way to conserve energy.
A straight-set win over Fernando Verdasco should help do just that. Murray defeated the 24th-seeded Spaniard 6-4, 7-5, 7-6 (3) on Monday to advance to the quarterfinals at the 2014 French Open.
Seeded seventh after dropping in the world rankings due to injury, Murray has advanced to at least the quarterfinals in each of his last three appearances at Roland Garros. (Murray withdrew from the event last summer due to a hip injury.)
Heading into his fourth-round contest with Verdasco, many wondered whether Murray's recent run of success in Paris might end due to fatigue. He fought through perhaps the best match of the entire tournament against Kohlschreiber, taking the fifth and deciding set after 22 games. It was the longest match of Murray's career and spanned two days.
“It was a mentally draining match,” Murray told reporters Sunday. “It was the first five-set match I played since my surgery and last night I was struggling physically. I was cramping towards the end of the fourth set and for quite a lot of the fifth set.”
While it never felt like Murray was in peak form against Verdasco, he mustered enough strength to make shots when he needed. The 27-year-old Brit won 75 percent of his first-serve points, peaking at 212 kmh as Verdasco struggled to make strong returns against his power. Often putting the Spaniard on his back foot, Murray was able to land 35 winners for the match.
Verdasco, whose third-round match also stretched into Sunday, cannot really point to one overarching cause for his loss. His 45 unforced errors were mitigated by 50 from Murray. Verdasco would probably take back his two double faults, but his opponent had three of his own.
The match, featuring numerous long rallies and hotly contested individual games, came down to nailing shots at critical junctures. Murray broke Verdasco's serve four times. Verdasco managed to top Murray just twice, mostly failing to even come near a break point after the first set.
At different points, Verdasco could be seen yelling at himself, muttering words of frustration amid chances blown. That provided a stark contrast to Murray, who was decidedly more reserved and kept his emotions in check. Verdasco's post-point exclamations were loud enough to be heard in the cheap seats; Murray's were quiet and almost never intelligible on the broadcast.
From the opening shot, it was clear these two would be separated by the thinnest of margins. Each gave up easy points with unforced errors and allowed a break point on second service. The first set shifted when Murray fought through deuce twice at 4-4 to break Verdasco's serve a second time before finishing it off 6-4.
Murray's powerful returns played a particularly large role in the first set, with Verdasco taking speed off his first serves to ensure accuracy. He managed to hit 80 percent of his first serves within the lines, but Murray still won a respectable 15 return points to give him a slight edge.
A nearly hour-long second set followed, featuring numerous points that could have swung the match in wildly different directions. Verdasco ratcheted up the aggression—particularly on second serves—and seemed more in control at times than a mistake-heavy Murray.
But again Murray's serves proved too much for Verdasco to handle. The 30-year-old, playing in his fifth French Open fourth round, did not have a break point the entire set. Meanwhile, Murray went 1-of-3 on break points, but it was the only one he needed. With the two holding serve to tie 5-5, Murray pushed Verdasco to 15-40, won the critical break and closed out the set with his serve.
Another break on Verdasco's opening serve of the deciding set all but ended any hope the underdog had of coming back. Though he battled admirably—including a 10-minute game to hold his third serve—the heat of the Paris sun and Murray's shots were too much. Murray missed on 11 of 12 break points and made closing out the match far harder than it needed to be, but he got the job done in the tiebreak.
This is the 10th time in 11 career ATP matches that Murray has defeated Verdasco. Monday was their first head-to-head contest since their five-set thriller last year at Wimbledon, where Murray came back from two sets down to escape with a win. Murray went on to capture his first title at the All England Club.
Should history repeat itself, Murray will likely have to go through top-seeded Rafael Nadal. The four-time defending champion advanced to the quarterfinals in a straight-set romp over Dusan Lajovic. He and Murray would play in the semifinals if both are able to advance.
Up next for Murray is Gael Monfils, who advanced past Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in straight sets earlier Monday. Monfils has lost three of five matchups against Murray but won when the two faced each other at Roland Garros eight years ago. The Frenchman is a constant threat on clay, this marking his fourth quarterfinals appearance in the Slam.
At the very least, it will be interesting to see how much has changed between the two eight years after their first meeting.
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