October 3, 2014
With beautifully crafted points and a self-assurance rarely seen in recent times, Andy Murray destroyed Marin Cilic 6-1, 6-4 to set up a mouth-watering semi-final clash against Novak Djokovic.
It was one of Murray’s best performances since winning Wimbledon in 2013, although he did lose his head when a straight sets victory appeared momentarily to be slipping from his grasp. The fiery Brit’s foul-mouthed rant, just before Cilic levelled at 4-4 in the second, had television commentators rushing to apologise for what millions of viewers had heard. However, the fighting spirit has at least returned to a player who had faded badly after his heroics of 2012 and 2013. Now Djokovic knows he will have a battle on his hands on semi-finals day of the China Open.
This time it was Cilic who learned what it is to go into a tournament as a Grand Slam champion. He didn’t handle the weight of expectation at all well, and may need time to readjust to new levels of scrutiny. The one-sided nature of the first set must have shocked even Murray’s most ardent supporters. The Scot looked supremely relaxed and confident as he discovered his finest timing.
The Croatian, who had blended crushing power with deft brush strokes at Flushing Meadows, fell apart under the pressure in Beijing. Murray neutralised his opponent’s serving power and soon saw that, without such firm foundations to build upon, Cilic’s creativity simply crumbled. With a fluency that evoked his glory years, Murray seemed in total psychological control…until he let a 0-30 lead slip on the Croatian’s serve, while 4-3 ahead in the second set.
Although Murray had already suffered a melt-down or two in Beijing, nothing had assaulted the air-waves quite like the verbal barrage which followed. Thankfully he was able to regain his composure in time to thwart any hint of a Cilic comeback and close out the match.
Djokovic had already shown an ominous level of excellence against a disappointing Grigor Dimitrov. You had to sympathise with Maria Sharapova’s boyfriend. He faced a major struggle every time he wanted to win a point, such was the impenetrable brilliance of Novak’s defence. Djokovic ran out a 6-2, 6-4 winner, despite Dimitrov’s second-set comeback. The Serb’s victory looked a formality when he was cruising at 5-2 ahead in the second. Yet the Bulgarian broke back and served for the opportunity to level at 5-5.
It wasn’t to be. And the way Dimitrov let that recovery evaporate, during the service game he simply had to win, raises further questions about his mental strength and desire to take his game to a new level. It seems that Grigor is content, for the moment at least, to remain a top-ten player, instead of fulfilling his promise to join the big boys at the very summit of the game.
As for Murray, his hunger is back and even spilling over into moments of madness. Perhaps we should take the rough with the smooth and be happy that a long, barren spell, when Murray barely turned up for the big occasions, is apparently over at last.