By Jake Davies
- Andy Murray  defeats Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-7 (5) 7-5
- It is the closest Murray has been to losing his grip on the Race to World No.1
- Murray plays Lucas Pouille for the third time this year in Paris tomorrow
PARIS, FRANCE – Andy Murray had to come back against a tricky foe Fernando Verdasco who almost derailed his attempt to catch up to the World No. 1 spot.
Andy Murray  defeats Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-7 (5) 7-5
Murray came close to losing his first match since his loss at the Davis Cup but held off an inspired Verdasco to win a close three-set match.
There were many questions coming into this match that needed to be answered. Was Murray set to continue his fine winning run where he has looked irrepressible? Could Verdasco roll back the years and produce some of the tennis that took him to a Grand Slam semi-final in 2009?
Murray found a lot of success in the first set. He attacked the backhand of Verdasco persistently and tried his best to stay away from the Spaniard’s forehand that has won him hundreds of matches over the course of his career. That strategy worked tremendously as Verdasco is usually far less problematic and dangerous on that particular wing. Murray salvaged the first set comfortably 6-3, but his dominance came under immediate threat in the second set.
It took the Spaniard five break points to break the Brit’s serve for the first time. Verdasco was starting to find his rhythm. The most frightening aspect to Verdasco’s game is that he is a very unpredictable player. Most opponents fail to see what direction Verdasco is going to send the ball until the very last minute, which can be hard to predict if you are on the receiving end of his continuous onslaught.
The former Grand Slam semi-finalist was bossing a lot of the rallies in the second set. He was able to dictate with the forehand and that resulted in Murray being pushed further and further behind the baseline. It was increasingly looking like Verdasco was going to prove too big an obstacle for Murray in his quest to become the World No.1 player, but the inconsistency surrounding Verdasco’s game was giving Murray a considerable lifeline in this contest.
Verdasco’s ball toss and inconsistent service motion allowed Murray back into the match when Verdasco served for the second set, but the Spaniard eventually edged the tiebreak on his fourth set point.
It became increasingly obvious that Murray had to win this match without playing his best tennis. It was about whether the fighting qualities he has displayed over the length of his illustrious career was going to be enough to get him over the line.
In recent months, Murray has won these kind of matches, including beating Steve Johnson at the Olympics in a third set tiebreak, and more recently against Martin Klizan in Vienna. More of the same was required for the three-time Grand Slam champion.
Murray lived life on the edge when he stared down two break points at 5-5 15-40 down, but his reliability under pressure turned out to be just enough on this occasion, as he outlasted Verdasco 7-5 in the 3rd set.
The British No.1 was nowhere near his best, but he did what was required in order to live to fight another day in the BNP Paribas Open event in Paris.
Andy Murray  vs Lucas Pouille  – H2H: Murray leads 2-0
The ascension of Pouille towards the higher echelons of men’s tennis has been quite remarkable. Both the men’s and women’s game has become unbelievably difficult to see the younger players achieve great things at the early stages of their career. Pouille has made a two major Quarter-Finals at the age of 22, and has already bagged an ATP title in Metz, which speaks volumes of the quality of the young Frenchman.
The reason for the Pouille success is because he backs himself in the big moments. Pouille plays high-risk, heavy-hitting tennis and that was evident in his shock win over Rafael Nadal at the US Open this year.
Murray has played Pouille twice in 2016. One was on the fast courts of Shanghai several weeks ago and the other encounter came in Rome on the clay courts. Murray won both matches easily, but it could be a totally different match in the indoor conditions of the Paris Masters.
The additional factor of the Parisian crowd should play a huge part in this meeting. Will Pouille respond well to the added expectation of the home crowd in attendance? Murray will try to use that to his advantage and aim to use the energy of the crowd in a positive way like he did against Verdasco in the closing stages of that match.
Murray is now on a 16-match winning streak and must feel untouchable at this point. As Murray continues to build momentum moving into the latter stages of this competition it will be intriguing to see how he fares against potentially Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.
Prediction: Murray in two sets
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