Andy Murray crowned king of Queen’s
Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:35
The Queen’s Club hailed its first British champion in over 70 years as Andy Murray claimed his first grass-court title at the AEGON Championships.
The British No.1 beat James Blake 7-5 6-4 in a tense final played under bright blue skies in west London.
If the weather for the next month bears a passing resemblance to the scorching conditions for Sunday’s final, the bigwigs at SW19 will be kicking themselves for installing their new roof this year.
After his quicksilver run to the final – Murray had completed his four straight-set victories in a little over four and a half hours – the sense of occasion set in with this final hurdle before him.
The pre-match announcer hailed the Scot as ‘rock-steady Andy Murray’, but as early as the knock-up the world No.3 looked showed signs of the nerves that one might expect from a 22-year-old with the expectations of a nation resting on his shoulders.
The first three attempts to get a rally going faltered, and Murray nearly picked off an unsighted Blake with a practice serve before the action began, but any signs of stage-fright quickly dissipated in the second game of the match.
Murray produced three carbon-copy whipped forehands cross court to hold to love, as Blake had in the opening game, and went a break up in game 3 when Blake netted a short forehand.
The American was both hero and villain to the Queen’s Club crowd, simultaneously standing in the way of a British triumph and, by virtue of his English mother, a ‘British’ contender himself, of sorts.
The former finalist enjoyed the support of a healthy proportion of the stands, and did what only Andreas Seppi had managed previously in the tournament, breaking Murray to level the score at 2-2.
The former world No.4 may not be the same player that he was in 2005 when he claimed five ATP titles, but he had the power from both wings to prevent Murray with problems when the top seed put the ball in his strike zone.
He was also happy to play Murray at his own game, dinking drop shots and surviving lobs, and appeared happy to rally with the Scot from the baseline. But all too often the American was guilty of unforced errors, something Murray simply refused to let into his game.
With the score at 5-5 in the first, the pair entered a cross-court backhand rally that looked more suited to a clay court than the lawns of the west London club. But it was Blake who blinked first, running around one and crushing a forehand long to give Murray a 0-30 lead.
It was all the invitation the world No.3 needed, and after a backhand drive drew yet another error Blake once more blazed long when Murray framed a return mid-court. Murray served out to take the first set.
Despite the lead, the Scot did not look comfortable. He was struggling to strike a rhythm on serve, three times starting his routine over and doubling his double fault count for the tournament to six. His return game was not near to his usual standard, and although credit must go to Blake for finding the corners, he lacks the pace to genuinely concern Murray.
And yet despite not looking comfortable, Murray never fell behind, and after game 4 never faced a break point. When his first serve did land in, it gifted him points time and again. And in defence, not only did he reach balls on the stretch, but returned them with enough pace and direction to prevent an easy winner.
The less mobile Blake could not match that ability to scramble, despite his best efforts. In game 7, from the apparent comfort of a 30-0 lead, the American found himself first skidding to reach one forehand and diving in vain after the following backhand. From then, the momentum suddenly turned in the world No.3’s favour, and two majestic cross-court backhands later, Murray had broken for a 4-3 lead.
The damage was terminal. From there, Murray dropped just one more point on serve – and only after missing another backhand drive by millimetres, this time down the line. Serving for the title, he produced two aces and closed out the match with a service winner in an hour and seven minutes.
He celebrated the win by high-fiving his team and saving a kiss for mother Judy, before lifting the oversize trophy, the 12th title of his career.
Inevitably, thoughts immediately turned to Wimbledon in the post-match analysis, but as he has stated all week, Murray refuses to consider himself ready just yet.
“I’m not planning on getting caught up in the whole hype, because I don’t think that it helps if you do,” he said afterwards. “I’m going to try and just concentrate on playing and winning matches.”
“You can let the pressure affect you if you want to. You can let the expectation get to you if you really want to, but I’m just going to play tennis and not worry about the rest of the stuff, because I don’t think it’s good for your game.”
Blake, who admitted that it was difficult to be happy with his week’s work immediately after the defeat, was more enthusiastic about his opponent’s chances at the All England Club.
“Andy Murray’s an excellent player. He’s got the ability to beat anybody in the world. I think he has beaten just about everyone in the world at some point. It’s just a matter of doing it at the right time. He’s definitely a possibility to win Wimbledon.”
And the American hopes to improve his own record at the event, having not reached the second week so far in his career.
“I think i’ve played pretty good grass court tennis here,” he said. “Now it’s just a matter of translating it to the three-out-of-five at Wimbledon.”
Much as it is for Murray. But after his showing this week, there is plenty of reason to believe it can be done.