After winning his first clay Masters 1000 event at the Mutua Madrid Open last year, Andy Murray opened his title defense against Radek Stepanek — but in the first two sets, the Czech veteran made sure that the 2015 champion had to work hard to come away with the win at the end.
Andy Murray probably knew his opening match in Madrid wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.
Having lost to Radek Stepanek in their last meeting in Queens’ two years ago, Murray surely would’ve been wary when seeing that Stepanek was playing pretty well in his first three matches in the Spanish capital; the 37-year-old qualified successfully and took out Canadian Vasek Pospisil in his first round.
Thus, it probably wasn’t that shocking to see Stepanek get out of the starting blocks quickly as the whily veteran broke Murray early and held his serve with ease in the opening stage of the match. The defending champion started to find his rhythm, but it didn’t stop Stepanek from sliding for every ball and finishing the points at the net whenever Murray hit floating shots on the defense. As the opener wore on, however, the No. 2 seed made more and more of his passing shots to level the score. Stepanek had a break point late in the set but ultimately the opener was decided in a tiebreak — and Murray won the final four points of the set to take the first set, 7-6(3).
In the second, the Czech veteran once again captured an early lead, as he exploited Murray’s second serves ruthlessly and won 69 percent of those points. Contrary to the opener, Stepanek held on to his lead, and eventually forced a decider by virtue of taking the second set, 6-3.
Too often, the World No. 2 found himself too far behind the baseline and while Stepanek was playing some of his best tennis, Murray didn’t play with the necessary aggression in order finish points; the Scot hit only two winners off the ground in the second set.
In the decider, however, the tables turned quickly as Murray wrapped up the opening games of the third set and broke Stepanek with ease not once, but twice, to open up 5-0 lead. From there on, the Czech was able to hold one final time and pushed Murray as he served for the match, but was unable to prevent the defending champion from serving out the match to secure a 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-1 victory a little before 10:30 pm.
In the players’ words
On his slow start and Stepanek’s solid opening:
“He played very well. I mean, it was not easy. He obviously started the match a little bit better than me. I was playing a little bit too flat, so I think he obviously likes it when it’s like that, when the ball is bouncing a bit lower. He was hitting the ball big up the lines. He hit a lot of lines the first set and a half to get himself in a good position.”
On the conditions — both altitude and nighttime:
“[This was the] first match I played at night. It’s not easy — a little bit different when you play in the evening for sure. It’s always difficult this time of year because the conditions here are different. Obviously, you[‘ve] got Roland Garros at the end of this stretch, so if you’re preparing for that, you obviously practice at sea level — then [you] obviously come here, [and] conditions are a little bit different. It’s quicker; it’s a slightly different way of playing.”
On his own level of play:
“But, yeah, I didn’t play badly. I played some good stuff against a guy making it very difficult. He’s not like any of the guys that you practice with or play against much now. He has a very different game style and had come in having played three matches in these conditions and some pretty good wins.”
On how the match slipped away from him in the third:
“I kind of ran out of energy. It was a shame I didn’t win the first set — I was quick off the blocks, playing really well and I think I was dictating the game; even the third set I was a little bit…I had less energy for my aggressive style of play. I had already three matches under my belt and finished late last night, so that caught up with me a little bit in the end. You know, you’re playing against No. 2 in the world, you have to expect he’s going to be out there until the last moment — it’s what he did, hang in there, and now the only think I can talk to myself about is the first set, closing it out. There, I think I had a really good chance to maybe finish it in two. It is what it is.”
On his current form:
“Definitely, I have been playing for the past couple of weeks. Last match against Andy, I won. I knew that if I play my game well, I will definitely have a shot which happened but I came up short in the end.”
On his game style matching up well with a lot of the top players:
“Most of the guys are hitting from the back of the court and, you know, my nature of the game is the variety, coming in playing aggressive, changing the rhythm of the game. I don’t think [there are] many of us left — maybe I’m the last one.”
On savoring every moment on tour:
“Yeah, definitely, I was enjoying myself. In my age, it would be a shame if I wouldn’t — I’m enjoying every moment on the court, you know, I love this game, I’m working hard to be in the shape I’m in right now. I’m looking forward to everything — we’ll see how I do in the doubles, if I have a chance to be playing in Rome in the qualies or not and I’m just gonna go day by day.”