Home court serving Murray well
MIAMI -- Andy Murray grew up in Dunblane, Scotland, and today lists London as his primary home.
Actually, the 5.5 million-pound mansion is in Oxshott, Surrey, just south of the city. It has a three-car garage, a movie theater -- but no tennis court.
Four years ago, Murray bought a luxury condo in the 48-story Jade Building in the Brickell section of downtown Miami. For several years, he trained at the University of Miami in nearby Coral Gables. He and sometime coach Danny Vallverdu had the run of the tennis facility, the football weight room and the track. A few years ago, though, security got squirrely and they moved their offseason training operation to stadium court at the Sony Open, a few miles from the condo across the causeway in Key Biscayne.
For roughly eight to 10 weeks a year, Murray hits on the distinctive purple court that hosts the world's best players every March.
It may be the most decided home-field advantage in all of tennis.
"This is perfect," Murray said earlier this week. "I never practice on the grass courts at Queen's; I never practice on the grass courts at Wimbledon, either, because you're not allowed to during the year.
"So, I would say that here is the court that I feel most comfortable on just because I train on it all the time."
It sure looked that way Thursday, as Murray tagged No. 9 seed Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3.
The telling statistic: Cilic finished with 45 unforced errors, nearly twice as many as Murray.
"I think today was probably the best match for me," Murray said. "It was a tough, tough match. Second set especially was a lot of long, long games, tough points. Obviously took awhile to get to the finish line."
Murray was wearing a gray adidas T-shirt with the following message: "Sweat is weakness leaving the body." No one can say he hasn't put in the hard yards to improve.
For the longest time, Murray was tortured by a streak of perfectionism that rarely allowed him to hit a ball directly at a line. Instead, he centered the ball and passed on those dozen or so opportunities each match that the very best players went after aggressively.
Ivan Lendl, the eight-time Grand Slam singles champion, has helped to change all that. With Lendl urging him to go for it and cut loose, Murray won the Olympic gold medal last year and the U.S. Open, his first major. During the offseason, on this very purple court, the two worked on moving forward and shortening points even more. Combined with his defense and sense of the court, the adjustments have transformed Murray into something of a force.
In fact, if he wins the title here on Easter Sunday, Murray will move past Roger Federer into the ATP World Tour No. 2 ranking slot.
Murray has now beaten Cilic eight times in nine matches, including five times in majors. Cilic has some brilliant strokes, but against Murray -- and just about everybody else -- he has difficulty sustaining the longer points.
The first set was a scratchy one, featuring five breaks of service and, at one point, four in a row. Murray, though, converted one more break point. To be fair, Murray was passed a number of times by Cilic, but kept coming to the net. Cilic managed to break Murray in the eight game of the second set, but Murray broke him back in an elongated game (he needed six match points) to end it.
With No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic among the dearly departed (Tommy Haas sent him home in the fourth round), and No. 2 Federer and No. 4 Rafael Nadal sitting this one out, Murray finds himself the only member of the big four in these semifinals.
As a part-time Miami resident, Murray has taken to following the Miami Heat. He had hoped to get to a game or two while the tournament was in play but, well, he keeps winning. He watched most of it on television as the 27-game winning streak came to an end in Chicago.
"Well, it would have been nice to see them keep the streak going, but, yeah, it's a very tough thing to do," Murray said. "It's still amazing what they managed to accomplish."
Based on the way last season ended and the early returns so far this year, Murray may have a few amazing things ahead of him, too.