There was a time when reaching a Grand Slam semi-final might have satisfied Andy Murray and his team. Not any more. When Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach, was asked whether he was excited about the fact that his man had reached today's semi-finals here at the US Open he replied in typically forthright fashion: "No, it's a semi-final. We didn't come here for semi-finals."
Lendl, who as a coach has been as reluctant an interviewee as he was in his playing days, would be the last man to put pressure on the Scot's shoulders, but the eight-times Grand Slam champion knows that Murray will settle for nothing less than victory over Tomas Berdych this afternoon. Novak Djokovic meets David Ferrer in the other semi-final.
Murray has played in the semi-finals of six of the last seven Grand Slam tournaments but won only two of them: against Ferrer (then the world No 7) at last year's Australian Open and against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No 6) at Wimbledon this summer. The losses were against Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, who were either world No 1 or No 2 at the time.
Berdych, the world No 7, is a dangerous opponent – as Roger Federer discovered in the quarter-finals here – and has won more matches against Murray than he has lost, but the Scot will know that this is a huge opportunity. The world No 4 has been in the form of his life this summer, reaching his first Wimbledon final and winning Olympic gold, and feels happier about his game than he did 12 months ago, when he lost to Nadal in the semi-finals here.
"It wasn't as tough [a loss] as the Australian Open final or the Wimbledon final, but it was a tough loss – any one you have in a Grand Slam is," Murray recalled. "I didn't actually start that match particularly well but I played OK the last few sets. The whole tournament and the build-up to that match I hadn't felt good at all. I probably played better in that semi-final than I had in the rest of the tournament. So I feel like I probably played a bit better this year and I hope that will help me."
Although Berdych's game can be one-dimensional – the 6ft 5in Czech hits the ball as hard as anyone and loves to dominate opponents with his thunderous ground strokes from the baseline – he can knock the very best players out of their stride by denying them time on the ball.
Murray has found him a particularly tough nut to crack. They have met four times in the last two years and Murray has won just once, in their only meeting on an outdoor hard court, in Dubai earlier this year. Berdych beat him last time out, on clay in Monte Carlo, and in their only Grand Slam meeting, at the French Open two years ago.
While Berdych is not the most mobile of players, Murray will need to rely as much on the aggressive game that has reaped such dividends this summer as on his own athleticism and ability to make his opponents hit the extra ball. The points are unlikely to be especially long because if Berdych gets in enough big shots he is sure to hit plenty of winners.
"He's got a big game, a lot of weapons," Murray said. "He can hurt you on both sides and off his serve. He's very aggressive on return of serve too. When he's on, he's had good success. But he can be up and down sometimes and that's when you need to capitalise on those moments in the match when he's not playing so well, maybe making a few mistakes. You need to make sure you're there from the first point to the last."
Berdych will be the third 6ft 5in-plus opponent that Murray has faced in succession following his victories over Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic. Would Berdych offer a similar challenge to Raonic? "It's different," Murray said. "His serve's not as big and he will be returning better and probably moving better from the back of the court. He also has a lot of experience. He's been in the top 10 for a long, long time now. He's played a Wimbledon final, he's been deep in Grand Slams before, he's beaten Roger in Slams before. It will be a tough match against him."
If there is a general expectation within the game that Murray will be the next player to win his first Grand Slam title, does 26-year-old Berdych think it might also be his time? "He [Murray] has made more finals than me and more Masters 1000s, but I think once you get to the point of a Grand Slam semi-final or final you are starting on the same line," Berdych said. "I did my first interview here with Mats Wilander before the tournament and he said: 'I don't see any reason why this place shouldn't be your place and you are the one who could do really well here.' At the beginning it sounds a long way away, but now we are in this stage of the tournament and we will see how right he is going to be."
Lendl has great respect for his fellow Czech – "He's getting better. I know him, I talk to him in the locker room" – but believes that this is a time when Murray will feel the benefit of his Olympic success.
"It helps this weekend and going forward," Lendl said. "Put it this way: outside of Wimbledon – because he is British – if you gave me a choice should we win the Olympics or the French, US or Australian Opens, I would have said the Olympics without thinking. I think the Olympics are harder to win than the majors."
In terms of the quality of the tennis on both sides of the net, Djokovic's 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 quarter-final victory over Juan Martin del Potro on Thursday night was the best match of the tournament to date. The 84-minute third set in particular featured some spectacular play. Some of Djokovic's defence was breath-taking as he kept taking Del Potro's biggest blows before coming off the ropes to land his own winning punches.
"He's playing better and better every day and every tournament," Del Potro said afterwards. "He is the favourite to win this tournament. I saw him playing at a very high level for three hours in our match and he has the intensity to win all the matches in the tournament."
Berdych v Murray complete record
2005 Basle (indoor carpet):
Murray won 6-4, 2-6, 6-4
2006 Adelaide (outdoor hard):
Berdych won 7-6, 4-6, 6-1
2010 French Open (clay):
Berdych won 6-4, 7-5, 6-3
2011 Paris Masters (indoor hard):
Berdych won 4-6, 7-6, 6-4
2012 Dubai (outdoor hard):
Murray won 6-3, 7-5
2012 Monte Carlo (clay):
Berdych won 6-7, 6-2, 6-3Reuse content