- Australian Open, Day 12
A+ for Andy after Australian assaultJo Carter January 27, 2012
On the face of it, Andy Murray has endured his worst Australian Open campaign in three years. Having reached the final for the last two years, Murray was looking to go one better in 2012 and claim his maiden grand slam title.
But his wait for grand slam glory continues after he fell agonisingly short after a gruelling five-set semi-final battle against Novak Djokovic.
Ironically, Murray was seeded fifth in the previous two seasons, meaning as fourth seed this year he would avoid playing his three main title rivals - Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer - until the semi-finals.
But when the draw was made a fortnight ago, Murray's path to the final looked decidedly banana-strewn. A first-round clash against up-and-coming American teenager Ryan Harrison was not to be sniffed at, while a potential third round clash against the enigmatic Gael Monfils was on the cards, with sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a likely quarter-final opponent.
As it happened, Murray enjoyed a relatively clear path to the semi-finals - Mikhail Kukushkin removing the threat of Monfils in five sets - meaning he was in no shape to challenge Murray in round three, before Kei Nishikori claimed the scalp of former Australian Open finalist Tsonga in the fourth round.
Having dropped just one set (the opening set against Harrison), Murray was looking good, and a simple three-set win over Nishikori left him with plenty left in the tank for what was always going to be a war of attrition against Djokovic.
In previous years, Murray had played lower-ranked opponents in the semi-finals in Melbourne. In 2010 he saw off No. 14 seed Marin Cilic, while last year he came up against seventh seed David Ferrer. But after Nadal's thrilling four-set victory over Federer, Murray knew he would have to get past the best two players in the world if he was to break his grand slam duck Down Under.
Novak Djokovic on Andy Murray
Speaking after his semi-final victory on Thursday, Nadal, who lost all six of his matches against Djokovic last year, warned Murray he would have to come out hard against the world No. 1.
"Andy has to play more aggressive than usual," Nadal said, before conceding: "My advice is probably not very good because I lost to Novak six times."
Murray may not have heard Nadal's advice, but the Scot certainly seemed to have devised an aggressive game plan as he hammered the ball as hard as he could in an attempt to neutralise the threat of Djokovic, but ultimately fell 6-3 3-6 6-7(4) 6-1 7-5 after nearly five hours on court.
Falling in such heartbreaking circumstances will certainly smart, but there were signs of progress from his new partnership with new coach Ivan Lendl. Once the disappointment of defeat wears off, there are plenty of positives to take from his fortnight in Melbourne.
Where once he may have surrendered defeat after going 5-2 down in the deciding set, Murray battled the fatigue to claw his way back into the match. Regardless of the result, Murray certainly won a few more fans Down Under with his never-say-die attitude.
Having brought in former world No. 1 Lendl as his new coach, it was unrealistic to expect the eight-time grand slam champion to turn Murray into a major winner overnight. But even his good friend Djokovic, who has played with Murray since they were juniors, noticed the difference.
"He was more confident on the court," Djokovic admitted. "He was taking his chances. He was being more aggressive. I think he was playing better."
It was the first major since Wimbledon 2010 that Murray was playing with a permanent coach - the usual crowd have been in regular attendance - fitness coaches Jez Green and Matt Little and physio Andy Ireland as well as hitting partner Dani Vallverdu, but Murray admitted it was a boost to have an eight-time major champion in his box.
"I feel like, you know, when you look up at someone like that in the stands it helps," he said. Obviously for me, I want to try and repay the sort of faith that he's shown in me by coming to work with me. So I would have liked to have done obviously better here."
Murray admitted by the end of the match tactics had gone out the window and he was relying purely on instinct as fatigue took its toll, but at the end of his first tournament under the guidance of Lendl, it will certainly be a promising report. It may only be a B+ performance, but it was an A+ for effort, and you can't ask more than that.