It is a shame that the only UK television coverage of Andy Murray’s matches during the Asian swing so far was a one hour highlights show on Sky Sports 3 tonight. British tennis fans have been deprived of seeing the world No.4 in the form of his life on the hard courts of Bangkok and Tokyo.
Murray’s 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory over Rafael Nadal in this morning’s Japan Open final made for good viewing. If he continues his rich vein of form by defending his title at this week’s Shanghai Masters, for which Sky will broadcast live coverage each day, the Scot will, perhaps sooner than expected, attain his end-of-season goal of becoming the new world No.3 ahead of Roger Federer.
While Murray, in the past, has sometimes struggled to deal with the aftermath of grand slam defeats in the latter stages – the post-Australian Open slumps both this year and last year being two examples – there has been no sign of any poor form or lack of motivation during the past month.
At the Davis Cup Euro/Africa Group Two promotion play-off between Great Britain and Luxembourg last month, Murray went about his work professionally and got the job done. At the ATP 250 event in Bangkok last week, he was fully committed to winning a tournament which, in all honesty, makes little difference to his CV.
What it did do, though, was give him the confidence to go to Tokyo and continue with the aggressive intent that had served him so well the previous week. And that showed in all of his matches in Japan, particularly in his 6-2 6-3 semi-final win against David Ferrer, who you would not believe, on the basis of watching that match, was ranked just one place below Murray.
All these matches in Asia before the final in Tokyo were ones which Murray was expected to win anyway. The big test of his positive approach and mindset would come against Nadal, the world No.2 who had a 13-4 head-to-head record over Murray and had beaten him in the semi-finals of the last three grand slams.
It was a test, though, that Murray clearly relished, and it showed. Despite a nervy start in which he was broken in his opening service game before Nadal went on to take the opening set 6-3, Murray did not get frustrated, remained patient and took his chance on his fourth break point of the match at 2-1.
A good indicator of how Murray is currently feeling on court came when, at 0-40 down in the next game, he served three consecutive aces before crucially holding serve. That was perhaps the defining point of the match as, from then on, Nadal went on to win just one more game.
The bagel set which Murray delivered in the decider was perhaps the best set I have ever seen the 24-year-old play. It was a devastating performance with Murray hitting huge winners at ease off both wings.
It is not the first 6-0 set Murray has won against Nadal, having done the same in the final set when he won the final of the Rotterdam tournament in 2009. That day though, Nadal was injured and was basically on one leg.
There were no such problems with Nadal today. He was simply overwhelmed by Murray’s hitting and managed to win just four points in that final set. It was a tame end to the defence of his Japan Open title and the stat remains that Nadal has never defended a non- clay court title in his career.
On the back of his singles victory, Murray rounded off the perfect week by going back on court to win the doubles event with brother Jamie as they defeated Frantisek Cermak and Filip Polasek 6-1, 6-4 in under an hour.
Despite being a regular instance 30 years ago, players winning the singles and doubles titles in the same week doesn’t happen all too often on the tour these days and Andy became the first player since Juan Ignacio Chela in September 2010 in Bucharest to do the double at an ATP event.
Jamie will no doubt be grateful to his younger brother for helping him out. The 25-year-old is still struggling to find a permanent partner on tour, but the 500 points gained this week should help as it will take him to a new career high ranking within the top 25 tomorrow.
While Jamie has a break this week before heading to Moscow to play with Frenchman Julien Benneateau at the Kremlin Cup, Andy heads straight to Shanghai in buoyant mood. It will be interesting to see if the exertions of the past two weeks catch up with him or perhaps, like we have seen with Novak Djokovic, the confidence of winning matches will help take him to yet another title.
Some may point out that it is very well doing this in the ATP Tour events, but Murray is still yet to do it at a grand slam. That may be the case, but such a devastating performance against a fully fit world No.2, who has denied him at the majors on so many occasions in the past, may just help give Murray that extra little bit of belief he needs.