By Ros Satar
- Andy Murray def. Kei Nishikori 7-5 7-6(60 3-6 4-6 6-3
- Great Britain def. Japan 3-1 and will face… in the QF
BIRMINGHAM, UK – Andy Murray puts defending Davis Cup champions Great Britain into the quarter-finals after a five set thriller against Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
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There was always a thought that the level for this match would be higher then the first day’s singles rubbers, and that it was unlikely to be a rout, and we were not disappointed as Murray battled in his first five set match since becoming a father.
Despite the earliest of opportunities from Nishikori in Murray’s opening game, punctuated with the mutterings of indignation we have come to expect from the Brit as he scampers about the court, it was Murray who struck first with an early break.
Just as quickly throwing in a double-fault to hand Nishikori another chance to break he pumped himself up to force Nishikori long but still looked at times ill at ease.
Perhaps it was nerves with the tie resting on his shoulders, in all probability, that Nishikori’s patience was rewarded with a break back. With a big hold coming up, Murray stopped a run of three games to Japan.
His frustration though as evident, berating himself with each miss and netted shot, as a set point went begging. He managed to settle himself to break again as this time the nerves seemed to afflict Nishikori as a double fault handed Murray the route back on, and the break that hopefully would settle everyone’s nerves.
The early signs were not good though as Nishikori broke at the start of the second set. The stress levels were racking up again as a break point chance went begging earning Murray a racquet abuse warning for cracking it while smacking his shoe – but it worked as he broke and held to the lead, for the first time in this set.
A late challenge by Nishikori earned the ire of both Murray and captain Leon Smith, with Murray picking up the pace in his shots to keep his nose in front, but there was no doubt nerves were being frayed in this set, all round.
With the pressure on Nishikori to hold to stay in the second set mounting, it as imperative that Murray kept a tight(er) reign on his emotions to close the second set out. From 4-0 up in the tie-break it looked as though he would do just that, but Nishikori is a tough nut to crack, pulling back six points on the trot to have set points of his own.
Some inspired play pulled the Brit through to an 8-6 win, but serving from behind presented Japan with a chance to turn the screw. A loose game from Murray put Nishikori in the driving seat to take the match into a fourth set.
Twice Murray put Nishikori under pressure to break for a lead, and twice the fleet-of-foot World No. 6 dug himself right out of trouble, twisting his fortunes to put Murray under the cosh, breaking the Brit for a 4-2 lead, as perhaps Murray’s lack of match play and a two-hour doubles match the day before were beginning to catch up with him.
Another dip in Murray’s levels saw Nishikori scoot out to a 5-2 lead before the Brit seemed to dial back in, pulling back the deficit to 5-4 before Nishikori gave Japan more hope of a win, as he forced a deciding fifth set.
Both were beginning to show signs of fatigue, trading breaks at the start of the fifth set, before Murray pulled ahead, only to hand the advantage straight back.
Again break points tantalising danced in front of a tiring Murray’s eyes, and once more Nishikori found a way to claw them back, but falling at the last hurdle for Britain to take a 4-2 lead.
Nishikori gave it his all, staving off two match points to force Murray to serve it out, and saving one more along the way before hooking a ball long as Murray dropped his racquet to signal Great Britain in the quarter-finals again.
Talking to Annabel Croft in his on-court interview, he admitted that things had got very tough out there, as he makes his competitive comeback after a five week break.
He said: “I was a little bit calmer in the fifth set, I was getting very frustrated and panicking a little at the end of the third when I was struggling a bit physically and didn’t know quite how to play the points, and was getting quite down on myself but in the fifth. I went back to what I was doing I the first set. I was getting pumped up, a lot of positive energy and like I said fight for every single point and that was enough today.
“Last year’s experience was incredible for everyone on the team but every time I’ve played Davis Cup I’ve really enjoyed it regardless of who the players were, the captain. This team has done something special last year and I would like to try and do the same this year if we can and obviously the next match would be extremely tough but if we all stick together and fight like we have been in all the matches, we have a chance.”
Finally he was able to give he crowd a laugh, while describing that as it is his wife Kim’s first Mothers’ Day he would try and get back in time for ‘bath time and try and put her to sleep,’ before clarifying he meant Sophia. But if we needed any convincing that he was ready to return to the fray, his first five set victory was evidence enough.
A very dejected Nishikori faced the press after the match, and admitted that as Murray lifted his level in the fifth set, his own errors had been very costly.
“I knew he was going to [come] back. I mean he always act like that, you know. I was ready to fight again in the fifth set and I mean for me also I was fine, my body-wise. He’s not going to give up this important match so I tried to focus, but he was better player in the fifth set.”
With their win, Murray’s schedule will need to fit around two Grand Slams, the defence of his Olympic title and the Davis Cup quarter-final, before the final Grand Slam of the year in New York.
He said: I think you can focus on all of them, but you also have to be realistic about your performance in all of them, that you’re unlikely to play your best in all of the competitions and physically you’re unlikely to feel perfect during all of them. I would think that Wimbledon should be fine, and the Davis Cup.
“It’s the accumulation of weeks and matches that you say so then by the Olympics and then US Open, you start to feel fatigued. It’s completely normal and that’s why with your team you have to be some forward thinking and planning in advance, like days off.
“Even if it’s just a couple of days at a time after that Davis Cup tie against Serbia if it’s three of our days, they add up. After the Olympics if it means missing Cincinnati and taking a week off, and then preparing for the US Open, it’s just about being smart and managing your body and you time as best as you can.”
Murray will be heading to Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open, which begins on 10 March.
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