Andy Murray has beaten Michael Berrer, widely recognised as one of the game's nice guys, and Marco Chiudinelli, who is best known for being a close friend of Roger Federer, in his first two matches here at the Dubai Duty Free Championships. If the Scot has had a comparatively easy passage so far, the challenges now get much tougher.
Today's quarter-finals will see Murray take on Tomas Berdych, the world No 7, who has won their last three encounters. The winner is seeded to face Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, in tomorrow's semi-finals, with the prize likely to be a meeting with Federer in Saturday's final. Given the quality of the players attracted to this tournament every year, it is no wonder that the list of winners since 2003 – Federer (four times), Djokovic (three times), Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick – reads like a who's who of 21st century tennis.
Murray, who beat Chiudinelli 6-3, 6-4 yesterday, may need to find some of his best form today if he is to have any chance of joining those names on the honours board. While Murray is returning to action after a four-week break following the Australian Open, Berdych has kept himself match-sharp, playing in the Davis Cup and two tournaments. The Czech, who reached the last eight by beating Slovakia's Lukas Lacko 6-1, 6-2, won the title in Montpellier and reached the semi-finals in Rotterdam before losing to Juan Martin del Potro.
The 6ft 5in Berdych is a ferocious ball-striker and has recorded two big wins over Murray in the last two years, at the French Open and the Paris Masters. Murray, nevertheless, sees the Czech as an opponent that he should relish facing.
"I've always enjoyed playing guys that are big hitters," Murray said. "That's his game. I'll have to try and find a way of neutralising that by getting the first hit in the rallies, using a lot of variety in my game. He can make mistakes, but you need to force him into doing that; he's not just going to give you that. If you leave the ball in the middle of the court he hits it very, very well.
"If you can hit the ball well against him on a court like this I think he can make mistakes. I think he does like time on the ball. But if he's serving huge and getting in the first hit in the rallies, then it's very difficult to play him."
Despite a large blister on a foot, Murray said he was feeling in much better shape than he had the previous day, when he felt sick playing against Berrer. Chiudinelli lacked the weapons to trouble the world No 4 and did not force a single break point. Murray served well, made fewer mistakes and generally looked more comfortable than he had 24 hours earlier.
A crisp forehand return by Murray into Chiudinelli's feet in the fourth game produced the only break of the first set. The 30-year-old Swiss played marginally better in the second set, in which he saved break points in the first and seventh games. Murray made his breakthrough to lead 5-4 and then served out for the match.
The fact that the Scot was feeling better was reflected in his smiling post-match response to a question about the penalties handed out to the boxer Dereck Chisora following his post-match brawl with David Haye. Murray, who is a keen boxing fan and a friend of Haye, said: "I guess you can't really be acting like that. I don't really want to say too much more because one of them will come and find me."
Djokovic had to work harder to put away Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky. The world No 74, who has a big serve and likes to attack, matched Djokovic shot for shot in the first set. Djokovic saved the only break point against him with an ace in the eighth game, while Stakhovsky also served his way out of trouble when the world No 1 had his only break point at 5-5. The tie-break was similarly tight, but at 5-5 Djokovic hit an ace, upon which Stakhovsky put a forehand long.
The second set was more straightforward as Djokovic completed a 7-6, 6-3 victory to earn a quarter-final meeting with his friend Janko Tipsarevic. The two Serbs and their partners went on holiday to the Maldives in December, but did not play any tennis there. "They had a tennis court, but we always tried to take the road around it, not to see it," Djokovic said with a smile.
Federer defeated a big-serving left-hander for the second day in a row as Spain's Feliciano Lopez suffered the same fate as France's Michael Llodra. Federer now plays Mikhail Youzhny.