ATP Tennis 360

January 26, 2010 1:59 PM

Murray and Cilic, the victory of brains

x610.jpgThe 2009 Australian Open champion came back home and is losing his berth at the number 2 of the world rankings. His precautionary forfeit at 63 76 30 in Murray' advantage didn't change the image of a good Rafa Nadal overwhelmed by an old-style Scotster, arrived to the semis without having dropped a set.

The Dumblane native, 11 months younger than Rafa, three years ago pushed the Mallorcan to a dramatic fifth set in Melbourne three years ago, and was up 2 sets to 1 and leading 2-1 and 0-40 on Nadal's serve in the fourth. But he lacked fitness and mental toughness and lost in five.

Now Murray is a real champion, aggressive, focused in not letting Nadal dictate the rallies. Rafa's his idol, Andy has always admired his consistence and mental attitude. And, probably unconsciously, his decision to hire Corretja was consequent not only to his ambition to gain more on the clay, but also to his admiration towards the Mallorcan's style.

He was accused to be a fence sitter, and for a certain period, his excess of prudence cost him some possibility of success. But against Rafa he can brings the best out of himself, as he showed in the epic 2008 Us Open semifinal. Now Andy added muscles to his brilliant mind, to that sharp intuition he outlined since when he was a child, when his mother brought him to a badminton tournament and he, after the first set, declared he had realized how to beat the defending champion.

Rafa dreamt to come back from two sets down for the fourth time in career. Instead he was forced to rise the white flag before the natural match conclusion for the sixth time. But the conclusion didn't reduce the Brit's merits. Murray played a brilliant match, alternating flat accelerations from both sides to slower balls with no pace to slip off rhythm to Rafa. And showed an intense character at least in two situations. When he was broken to 1-2 in the first, and was immediately able to bring the match back on serve.

Then, it could have been an hard obstacle to lost his serve after a nine minutes delay for a firework show in honour of the Australia Day and be forced to dig from 2-4 down. But "Braveheart" did it.

And now he will face, in the less predictable semifinal, Marin Cilic, the Medjugorie-native Croat, usually defined older than his age, who outlasted Andy in the last Us Open giving a glimpse of his talent. He has less variations than the Brit, a more flat and categorized game, but until this tournament he seemed a puzzle he couldn't find his missing piece.

In Melbourne he won thee exhausting five setters, against Tomic (another child-prodigy, who complained about his late finish after the defeat against the Croat, instead of thanking the organisers for blessing him letting him in a stage where every player of his age would pay to be), Del Potro, in a battle between two slender giants, and Roddick.

Born in Medjugorie, where the first tennis court was built in 1991, he soon showed passion and predisposition for sports, football and handball mainly, but the first Bosnian posed in front of him totally different horizons. Until a cousin of him, Tanja, visits Cilic from Germany. It was she to make Marin fond of tennis. And, at 18 years old, he already said: "I want to be a top-100, at 20 years old I want be top-20 and then top-10 to become n.1".

It was, then, Goran Ivanisevic to make him a professional player, bringing the young Marin, when he was 14, to Bob Brett, who had guided Boris Becker to his Wimbledon delightful triumph. Goran Ivanisevic words are heavy: years ago, he had predicted a young guy would have been successful. That guy was Tim Henman.

Soon Marin stressed a developed backhand and a brilliant adroitness in understanding the game. He played on the baseline, hitting with short preparatory movements, and dictated the rallies without recurring to powerful strokes. His personal life made him used to sacrifices and hard work.

He had only to find his missing piece, to erase that pinch of insecurity, or probably that excessive desire of arriving that obstacled his complete explosion, and that seemed come back all in once when he dropped 5-0 down in the fourth set against Andy Roddick and wasted a double set advantage before recollecting and win.

Their semifinal will definitely be decided more by brains than by muscles. And it's a rarity to appreciate in modern tennis.

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