Beijing | Murray pushes Thiem all the way
Andy Murray’s run at the China Open in Beijing came to an end but it certainly wasn’t a dishonourable defeat as he went down fighting to the very end.
I'm getting there, this week is better than last week, I hope next week is better than this week, Andy Murray
It was a match which saw the former world number one show that he is fast recovering from the after-effects of that career-saving hip surgery he underwent last January. His objective is to eventual compete with the higher ranked players and is the first to admit he has some way to go, especially as regards fitness.
And it would seem he is fast approaching that level having given the top seed, Dominic Thiem, a good run for his money for his 6-2 7-6(3) victory.
The 32-year-old Briton leaves the Chinese capital in a positive mood: “I think this (week) was maybe the best in terms of how I played since I came back.
“It was great for me, I played three matches in four days, which is quite a lot.
“Actually, I felt better than I expected today, as well.”
When asked if he was further ahead than he expected to be in his comeback, he replied: “Yeah, maybe.
“I’m getting there, this week is better than last week, I hope next week is better than this week,” the three-time Grand Slam champion added.
“That’s how I have to try to keep going to see where my limit is, I don’t think I’m at that limit now.
“I think I can keep improving. That’s what this week has shown me.”
Earlier in the week Murray had voiced disappointment at the number of spectators and the lack of atmosphere but on this occasion, that was certainly not the case as they came out strongly in his support.
Right from the beginning they were enraptured as the first game took 11-minutes and included a 31-stroke rally which set the tone for the rest of the match. The pinpoint accuracy, defensive play and tactical awareness became a consistent feature of the quarter-final as Murray, broken at the fourth attempt, then found the score.
The 32-year-old fended off break points in the third game, too, with more displays of length-perfect lobs, great retrieval and another gut-busting 30-plus rally. Both players were playing the same game and at times you could believe it was the Murray of old on both sides of the net.
Thiem had to save a break point before he extended his lead to 5-2 to serve out the 51-minutes set in which he had made 16 winners for only seven unforced errors. Murray also had a positive winners error count.
The second set began exactly the same as the first, a break, followed by a love hold from the Austrian who was serving at a very high level with the Scot continually snapping at his heels.
Serving for his place in the last four, that pressure from Murray told. Incredibly, Thiem delivered three double faults to find himself level at 5-games-all. Murray followed that up with love hold while Thiem was left serving for a tiebreak which he went on to claim after almost two hours with a forehand winner. His statistics read; 35 winners, 16 errors and 11 points won at the net.
Murray now travels to the Shanghai Masters where he hopes to see further progress but acknowledges it will be tough.
“I think I need a few more weeks of kind of playing matches like this, two, three, four matches in a week, trying to play consistently well in all of those matches to say I’m playing top-20 tennis or something like that,” he said.
Thiem’s next problem is Karen Khachanov, a 3-6 6-3 6-1 winner over Fabio Fognini, if he is to reach his first final in Asia and clinch a place at the season-ending World finals.
Meanwhile third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas faces a player who should be his biggest rival over the coming years, namely the second seed Alexander Zverev.
The 21-year-old Greek was a 7-6(3) 6-3 winner over the American John Isner while Zverev, 22, saw off another big-serving American, Sam Querrey 7-6(3) 6-2 to set up what should be an intriguing semi-final between these two young stars.