Sharada Iyer, Tennis With An Accent
Andy Murray’s 4-hour, 50-minute upset of 13th seed Matteo Berrettini at the 2023 Australian Open could be summed up by a statement from Murray’s former coach. Commentator Mark Petchey said during the match that Murray was “put together with a bit of steel, but made of granite.”
This was Murray, doing what he did best. The bit about “being made of granite” can also be used to describe the chiselling that’s been done to the 35-year-old’s career. It’s quite telling that the comment was made at the Australian Open, where the former World No. 1’s career has been hewed differently when compared to the other majors he has played.
Usually at the Australian Open in the last two decades, Novak Djokovic has dictated the themes of conversation. The Serbian’s nine titles at Melbourne Park confirm that larger point. On four of the nine occasions he reached the final, Djokovic’s opponent was Murray. The 21-time Grand Slam champion’s dominance at the venue thoroughly humbled Murray on each occasion. Still, these defeats, all these years later, feel like fuel that was added to an existing fire that was lit in 2010, when Murray reached (and lost) the Australian Open final to Roger Federer.
In these 13 years since, while his wait to hold the Norman Brookes Trophy has endured, Murray’s tryst with destiny has continued in the land Down Under.
His tearful exit at the 2019 Australian Open after suffering a five-set loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round wasn’t that long ago. It seems like forever, but that was still a point in time when Murray’s physical limits were questioned, as they still are now. It can’t be forgotten that quickly given Murray’s decision to play the tournament in 2019 had an intonation of retirement – partly brought about by his allusions to the same – but in the end, the outlook improved for Murray.
Of course, as if it were par for the course, Murray’s rise at this Australian Open came four years after his match against Bautista Agut there. A pelvic injury disrupted his chance to get back to the Slam in 2020. In 2021, Covid-19 caused him to skip it. Then came 2022, when he finally made his return and won his first match there after four years, before losing in the second round.
That year, in spite of Murray’s gruelling upset over 21st-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili in another match that went the distance, the uncertainties around his prospects still lingered. By this time, he had made a case for himself on the comeback path, but it was still inexplicably hard to assure oneself that Murray was on the mend.
A year on, the assurances have been strengthened enormously. Murray added step after step to his comeback trail for the entirety of 2022. Consider what Murray said on the eve of the 2023 Australian Open on how he felt physically.
“I also feel like I’m in a much better place than where I was during any of the slams last year coming into it. I feel well prepared, I feel ready to play a top player early in the event, whereas maybe last year at times my game didn’t feel that great,” Murray said.
He also added, “There was some stuff in my game I was struggling with for large parts of last year, so obviously I worked on that a lot in the off-season. It’s the first time in a while where I’ve had six, seven weeks of work uninterrupted by anything, so I feel like I was able to make some improvements in the off-season and feel a bit more comfortable with my game.”
Against Matteo Berrettini, Murray was comfortable aplenty. Brisk and swift, he systematically broke apart the Italian’s game in the first two sets. The third and fourth sets were more about his younger rival getting his bearings right than about Murray fading away. The fifth set was the contest proper, where Murray showed his opponent how his reputation as a fighter had been built. Or rather, why “granite” was a great metaphorical choice to describe him.
Andy Murray has regained a chance to shape his career on his own terms. He hadn’t been in that position for several years since his hip injury. Winning punishing five-setters is his way of shaping the narrative in a way that’s uniquely his – and has always been – in all the years he’s been on the tour.