The dream championship match between Andy Murray and either Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer is still alive at the 2016 Australian Open after the No. 2-seeded British star outlasted No. 8 David Ferrer, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3, during Wednesday's quarterfinals match.
It was a physically grueling showdown that included a rain delay and lasted more than three hours. At times, the contest resembled a boxing match with punches, counterpunches and momentum swings.
The Australian Open captured the moment of triumph in the fourth set that clinched Murray's sixth trip to the semifinals Down Under in the last seven years:
Murray finished with 11 aces and won 76 percent of his first-service points, but his ability to counter Ferrer's serve also helped him overcome 64 unforced errors. Ferrer did not tally a single ace, and Murray was a solid 6-of-13 on break points won.
Murray made the first move with an early break in the first set to jump ahead, 4-1. Perhaps he had revenge on his mind given this update from ESPN Stats & Info:
Australian Open analyst Craig O'Shannessy pointed to Murray's ability to take advantage of a weakness in Ferrer's forehand:
Murray continued to control the first set, and Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine commented on Ferrer's struggles in the early going:
Murray finished the set, 6-3, and ESPN Tennis illustrated that it was business as usual in this matchup:
However, Ferrer bounced back early in the second set and established a quick 3-0 lead. Matt Zemek of Comeback Sports said, "Murray's sliding into that passive mode which never works for him against really good players."
That may have been the case, but Murray battled right back to tie the set at four games apiece. From there, the two players held serve to force a second-set tiebreaker. Murray had some momentum, but Ferrer continued to hang around, which inspired this take from Mike Dickson of the Daily Mail:
Ferrer seized the momentum right back early in the tiebreaker and took a 4-1 lead after an incredible back-and-forth point, per the Australian Open:
Murray challenged, but Ferrer held on for the 7-5 win in the tiebreak to even the match at one set apiece. Zemek acknowledged one concern for the British star when he said, "Murray can't hit a single proper volley at the moment. Kinda important IF you keep rushing the net."
Murray responded early in the third set with a break to take a 3-1 lead before play was delayed so the roof could be closed as lightning was in the air. That played right into his hands, as Stuart Fraser of the Daily Mail realized:
That practice paid off for the No. 2 seed, and he closed out the third set, 6-2. Leigh Walsh of Live Wire Sport shared a disconcerting stat from Ferrer's perspective:
Murray registered another early break in the fourth set and quickly found himself ahead, 2-0, although Ferrer surged back to tie it at two games apiece. Undeterred, Murray bounced back and broke to jump ahead, 4-2, and appeared to sense the finish line with the roof closed.
At that point, Juan Jose Vallejo of Rolling Stone called Ferrer's forehand "very tired looking," and Murray capitalized on the fatigue on the way to a 6-3 victory in the fourth set to clinch the win.
Fraser noted it was Murray's 18th trip to a Grand Slam semifinal, six of which have come Down Under.
Murray will play the winner of the showdown between No. 13 Milos Raonic and No. 23 Gael Monfils in the semifinals.
According to SteveGTennis.com, Murray and Raonic split their six career meetings, although Murray has won the last two. As for the other potential matchup, SteveGTennis.com note Murray holds a 4-2 advantage over Monfils and has won three of the last four, including a 2014 clash in the French Open quarterfinals.
Murray flashed his durability and willingness to grind out a demanding victory throughout the long match Wednesday, and he delivered on a handful of momentum-swinging serves and critical break points. He has also controlled recent matches against both possible opponents and should garner something of a mental edge with that looming over the semifinals.
A trip to the championship match appears well within Murray's grasp.
Murray discussed playing under the closed roof in the aftermath, per the Australian Open: “I grew up in Scotland where the weather isn’t quite like here and I played all my tennis growing up indoors.”
He also addressed the quick break during his post-match interview, per the Australian Open: “I think it was actually good for us to have a little break because we played some brutal rallies at the beginning of that third set.”
Murray summed up the match in that interview, per the Australian Open: “The start of the match wasn’t so good, a lot of unforced errors, but in the middle of the second set and the third set we both started to play long points. It was pretty physical, and I held up pretty good, I think.”
If he can hold up for two more matches, Murray will take home the 2016 Australian Open title.
*Stats courtesy of AUSOpen.com.