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Despite having on paper the easiest semi-final of the top seeds, Andy Murray made very heavy weather of making the semis, sleep-walking through the first set before finally overcoming Florian Mayer 1-6, 6-1, 6-1.
“I’d never played against him or practised with him and he is a little bit difficult and so in the first few games I got a little bit up tight because I was not really seeing his game well and did not really put much pressure on him,” the Scottish no.4 seed said after the match. “I was also rushing and I came into the net quite a few times in the first set. He was working very well and hitting a lot of good passing shots. In my previous couple of rounds when I was coming forward I had a lot of success but today it didn’t work and so I backed off a little bit and to make the rallies a lot longer in the second and third second sets, and I was a little bit more patient and I felt more comfortable after that. He is a very tough player and he’ll probably will be in the top 20 after this week – he’s very good.”
The unheralded Mayer kept Murray off-balance with plenty of variation in the early running, including sliced two-handed backhands. “I actually found his forehand more difficult,” said Murray, who became the first British player in the Open era to make the semis in Rome. “Probably 90% of his backhands crossed court and sometimes when he went to slice, he sliced with two hands on the racquet and had pretty good variation with that. That was tricky and his slice was going pretty deep and right through the courts. He was using his forehand to come up to the net with a very long swing and it was quite tough at times. He was doing it split-step sometimes – he’s a bigger or slightly better version of (Fabrice) Santoro in that sense and he is a very tricky guy to play. You don’t play against guys like that very often and he makes it very difficult.”
After being given the run-around for the first half-hour, Murray took a comfort break and emerged with a better game plan. “I was a bit confused in the first set and not really thinking my way through the points. I went for a toilet break at the end of the first set and to see what I needed to do differently. I managed to turn it around but I needed to get some emotion into the match. He doesn’t really say much on the court and he makes you feel a little inferior because of the way that he plays – he makes the game look easy and it’s just very strange… I needed to get myself pumped up and my legs moving and I seemed to get back into it.”
With Murray now having made two semis on clay this season, it may now be that the world no.4 is seen as a genuine threat to go deep in tournaments on this, the slowest of surfaces as opposed to on the hard courts which suit his game better. “I just need to make sure that I practise enough,” he said of his travails on red dirt. “I struggle a little bit and at this tournament particularly in the past. I’ve had some good wins and I feel more comfortable than I did in the past and yes, I want to be playing at the latter stages of these events and if I want to get to no.1 in the world then you need to play well on all of the services because Roger, Rafa and Novak play well on all the courts. I need to improve my game on the service and it’s been better this year.”