Andy Murray has found a new love, though Kim Sears, his long-term girlfriend, can rest easy. Ever since he won the junior title at Flushing Meadows seven years ago, the Scot has said the tournament he loves most is the US Open. But the Australian Open has risen rapidly in his affections, thanks mainly to his success here over the last two years.
A finalist at Melbourne Park 12 months ago, when he played the best tennis of his life before losing to Roger Federer, Murray yesterday booked a fourth-round meeting tomorrow with Jürgen Melzer by brushing aside Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. The world No 5 needed 82 minutes to win 6-1 6-16-2. He has dropped 17 games so far, fewer than he has conceded in the first three rounds on any of his previous Grand Slam appearances.
"I like the surface here better than the US Open," Murray said. "It's slower and I prefer that. I do like the surface here. It's very similar to the courts I practise on in Miami. I really enjoy this tournament. It's definitely one of the easiest to get yourself ready for, because they make life really comfortable here."
Federer famously labelled the Australian Open "the happy Slam". Not only do the players feel more carefree and, in most cases, injury-free at the start of the season, but they also enjoy staying close to the venue. Team Murray are in apartments only minutes away from Melbourne Park, which is a leisurely riverside stroll from the city centre.In New York most players stay at hotels in Manhattan, which can be a half-hour car journey away from Flushing Meadows.
Although the conditions here can be brutal – there have been days with no play until mid-evening because of the heat – they have not been too testing so far. The temperature climbed into the high 20s yesterday, but the forecast for the rest of this week suggests that those will be the most demanding conditions in which Murray will have to play.
Knowing what to eat and drink before and during matches is vital. "I don't drink much water any more," Murray said. "It's not good for you. I've been drinking more energy drinks. As the match goes on I increase the strength. Every set I drink one with more glucose."
Murray might have thought he would be in for a long day when he lost the first three points yesterday. On the second he was beaten by a remarkable passing shot down the line after Garcia-Lopez hit the ball between his legs with his back to the net after retrieving a lob. "I was thinking: 'Oh my God, I'm in for it today when people are pulling those sort of shots off'," Murray said. "It was an amazing shot. Since I've been on the tour that's never happened to me, so it was a little embarrassing."
However, Murray won eight points in a row from 40-0 down and it was not until Garcia-Lopez trailed 6-1 and 5-0 that the world No 32 held serve. The 27-year-old Spaniard raised a single finger in celebration and looked to the skies in gratitude.
Murray struck his returns with conviction, served well and rarely ventured from the baseline, where he quickly found a good rhythm on his groundstrokes. Like many of his opponents, Garcia-Lopez had little idea how to combat the 23-year-old Scot's clever variations of spin and pace. Garcia-Lopez said: "If I had held my serve in the first game I think everything would have changed. I didn't and after that I really didn't know what to do. I could have played much better, but I didn't know whether to attack or whether to make him hit more balls."
Melzer reached the fourth round for the first time when Marcos Baghdatis retired with a finger injury when trailing 7-6 2-6 1-6 3-4. The 29-year-old Austrian enjoyed the best season of his career last year and should be in the world's top 10 for the first time next week. A bold attacking left-hander, he has added reliability and consistency to his game.
Murray has won all four of their meetings, most memorably at the US Open three years ago, when he came back from two sets down. He also won in straight sets in the third round here the following year.
Melzer, looking ahead to their meeting, said: "He has his great defending skills. It's like two completely different gameplans meeting each other. He killed me once here, but the other matches were all close. I think it's more a question of how I get my game together. I'm going to be the one dictating what's going to happen. If I keep my unforced errors low, push him around, get my winners, I think I have a chance."
So far at least, Murray has shown no signs of missing the presence in his corner of a coach other than Dani Vallverdu, his hitting partner and friend from their days together at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona. However, Murray is in regular contact with Alex Corretja, who works with him on a part-time basis and discusses tactics with Vallverdu on the night before the Scot's matches.
"I've been working with Alex for three years and he has never come to Australia," Murray said. "If I felt like I really needed him here he'd come, but we did all the training in December and that is where the work is done, so I didn't feel it was essential."
Robin Soderling, who is a potential quarter-final opponent for Murray, moved into the fourth round by beating the Czech qualifier, Jan Hernych, 6-3 6-1 6-4. The Swede now faces Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov, who beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the beaten finalist here three years ago, 3-6 6-3 3-6 6-1 6-1.
Jamie Murray, Andy's brother, and his partner, Xavier Malisse, went out of the doubles. Having beaten the No 9 seeds, Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman, in the first round, they could not maintain their momentum against Germany's Bjorn Phau and Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic, losing 6-3 4-6 3-6.Reuse content