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Murray makes case for the defence against Fish

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:34

Three breaks from just four opportunities was enough for Andy Murray to beat Mardy Fish 7-5 6-3 and negotiate safe passage to the AEGON Championships semi-finals at Queen’s.

The top seed was made to endure some barren spells in the face of the big serving American but broke late in each set to set up a final four clash with Juan Carlos Fererro, who reached his second tournament semi-final of 2009 with a three-set victory over world No.73 Steve Darcis.

At one stage in the first set fifteen consecutive points went with serve, a throwback to the shootout-style grass court matches of the previous decade – which would doubtless have suited Fish.

“On this surface if I serve like that and play solid from the baseline, I can finish these matches quickly” – Murray

The American, who consistently hit the 135 mph mark and beyond on his first serve, has a style that would have been devastating ten years ago, when grass court tennis was a big server’s paradise. When a rally developed Fish took every opportunity to reach the net, but on the modern grass court his flat drives simply sat in Murray’s strike zone when not wide enough to stretch the Scot out of court.

There were signs of a tennis match among the serving practice, not least in game six when Murray worked his way to the net with a lob, only to frame his smash from Fish’s James Blake impression, find himself lobbed again and eventually force an error from the American.

But after no breaks of serve in the first ten games, Murray produced two points that illustrate just why serve-and-volley is a dying art. With Fish effectively serving to stay in the set, the world No.3 twice passed his advances, first with a forehand cross-court drive and then a backhand that flashed in the other direction to reach 0-40.

Fish saved two set points, one with a bravely driven second serve, but could not put the ball away when dictating the third, driving a smash long and wide to hand Murray the set.

The second set reverted to type, with just four points (two of which were double faults) going against the serve in the first four games. Fish’s third service game looked to be heading in the same direction when Murray suddenly produced two backhand winners, first a blocked return that whistled down the line and the next a stooping scramble to a ball that looked to be behind him as he screwed it past Fish.

The game reached deuce and although Fish survived, Murray had clearly stepped up his intensity, roaring his delight two games later before his perfectly placed backhand lob had even met the court.

The shot sent him on his way to the second break of the match, sealed at the second time of asking when Fish netted a deep return. Four serves and a forehand later, Murray had consolidated the break to lead 5-3.

The top seed’s momentum was unstoppable, and he closed out the match with his third break, finishing with a cross-court forehand that Fish wrongly thought was drifting wide.

“I served very well today,” Murray said afterwards. “I wasn’t letting him into a rhythm on the return and was changing the direction on my second serve really well, and the rest of my game was solid.”

“Mardy makes it tough for you – he has a big serve and comes to the net a lot,” he added. “But I think on this surface if I serve like that and play solid from the baseline, I can finish these matches quickly.”

The tournament favourite admitted he was pleased with his form on grass, but was quick to dispel the notion that it proved he was ready for Wimbledon just yet.

“This is my main prep this week, because by Saturday or Sunday next week you don’t hit that many balls.” he explained. “A lot of things happen in sport in the space of a week, so I’ll tell you the day before Wimbledon how I’m feeling.”

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