Australian Open 2014: Andy Murray progresses to quarter-finals despite dropping his first set of the tournament in win over Stephane Robert
Murray missed four match points in the third set before losing on a tie-break but recovered to claim the fourth and move into the last eight
A mangled racket bore testimony to Andy Murray’s frustration as the world No 4’s progress into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open here today proved more of a challenge than he might have been expecting.
When Murray had four match points for a straight-sets victory over Stephane Robert the Scot was on the brink of reaching the last eight for the fifth year in a row with a minimum of fuss. However, a combination of his own carelessness and his flamboyant opponent’s go-for-broke style took the contest into a fourth set before Murray won it 6-1, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2.
Murray had been much too good for Robert, despite the 33-year-old Frenchman’s unorthodox and unpredictable style, until he served for the match at 5-4 in the third set. Two match points slipped by courtesy of a double fault and a huge winning forehand down the line by Robert, who went on to break serve for the first and only time. In the tie-break, which the world No 119 won 8-6, Murray wasted two more match points with missed forehands. At the changeover he smashed his racket on the court surface in anger.
In the fourth set, nevertheless, Murray regained his composure in commendable fashion. Having broken Robert to love in the fourth game, the Scot went on to serve out for victory after two hours and 42 minutes, although a fifth match point went begging when the Frenchman thumped a backhand winner down the line.
“He's a fun player to watch but not fun to play,” Murray said afterwards. “He plays all the shots. He's very unorthodox. He made it very tough for me. If you can, you want to close matches out when you have the opportunity. I had chances on my serve, I didn't take them. I tried to stay focused at the beginning of the fourth set, got an early break and that helped.”
Robert, a carefree character who has spent most of his career on the Challenger tour, likes to use his spare time here in the casino and is not afraid to gamble on court. He has an unusual style, particularly on his backhand, which he hits early and with very little backswing.
Andy Murray gives away his racket which he broke during his victory over Stephane Robert
Nevertheless, he was clearly unused to dealing with a player of Murray’s class and for the most part the Scot had his opponent on the back foot with his sheer weight of shot.
Murray had to save a break point in the opening game, Robert failing to take his chance when he hit a forehand beyond the baseline, but from 1-1 Murray won nine games in a row to take the first set in just 25 minutes and go 4-0 up in the second. However, he twice double-faulted on set point, which proved to be a forewarning of what transpired in the third.
Despite the hiccup, Murray is through to the last eight here once again. He has won all four of his previous quarter-finals, going on to reach three finals and one semi-final, but from now onwards faces some of the biggest challenges imaginable. In his next match he will meet Roger Federer, who beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, while Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic would be his likely opponents in the semi-finals and final respectively.
Nadal booked his place in the quarter-finals by beating Kei Nishikori 7-6, 7-5, 7-6. The world No 1 now meets the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, who beat Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Victoria Azarenka’s chances of winning the women’s title for the third year in a row rose when Maria Sharapova followed Serena Williams out of the tournament. Sharapova, the No 3 seed, made 45 unforced errors in losing 3-6, 6-4, and 6-1 to Dominika Cibulkova. Williams was beaten by Ana Ivanovic yesterday.
Azarenka secured her place in the last eight with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Sloane Stephens in a match that lacked the controversy of their semi-final here last year.
Stephens, meanwhile, was asked to comment on television pictures which had shown her smiling when Williams was beaten by Ivanovic and then apparently holding her arms up in triumph and trying to “ high-five” one of her entourage. Stephens, who has had a strained relationship with Williams, said she had simply been mimicking the flamboyant celebrations of Ivanovic's entourage.
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