Could it merely be a coincidence, or perhaps something more, that the last time Andy Murray beat Feliciano Lopez it was on the way to claiming his first Grand Slam at the US Open back in 2012.
Back then the Brit finally came through their third round encounter after four gruelling sets which included three tie breaks. Thankfully for Murray, today’s (Saturday) clash at the Australian Open was a rather more straight forward one.
After a sluggish start Murray simply got better and better to come through his toughest test of the first week, eventually racing to a 7-6(2) 6-4 6-2 victory in two hours 15 minutes on the Hisense Arena.
There were plenty of signs that Murray is a contender, along with favourites Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, to claim the first major of the year a week tomorrow.
Murray was almost faultless in set's two and three as he soundly dispatched world number 26 Lopez to set up a somewhat favourable last 16 match with Frenchman Stephane Robert, the first man ever to make the fourth round after qualifying as a “lucky loser”.
Victory in that match would set up the potential prospect of having to beat Roger Federer, Nadal and then Djokovic back to back to claim the title down under, however Murray more than most will know there’s still more than a long way to go.
"I’ve made a good start, today was beautiful conditions to play in and we get to play in front of a full crowd when it’s like this,” said Murray after the match. “Ever since I was 18 I’ve had a lot of support here and I’ll need it if I want to go further”
The Brit’s victory over Lopez means he is now on a 13-match winning streak against left-handed players, a statistic he gives great credit to his brother Jamie for.
“I grew up playing with my brother who is a lefty so I had a lot of practise returning lefty serves when I was younger which helps,” he added.
A cagey start saw the first two games go against serve, as Murray recovered from an early break against him to level the match at 1-1.
Both players struggled to find their first serve, with the match there for taking. There were a few worrying signs as Murray didn’t look comfortable and began to reach for his back as if there was a problem, however Lopez couldn’t take advantage.
At 3-2 Murray sensed an opportunity, but was helpless as four break points passed him by, each time the Spaniard came up with the goods on serve to bail himself out of trouble.
Both then held with relative ease before Murray again upped the ante at 6-5, forcing Lopez to fend set point on two separate occasions; however in the unpredictability of the tie break Murray showed no signs of easing off playing his best tennis of the match to take it 7-2.
With momentum on his side Murray carried it into the second set, where he claimed a decisive break in the opening game. In some ways Lopez was his own worst enemy going abruptly off the boil as his game began to leak errors.
From that point on the Spaniard did his best to hang in but Murray was dominant, finding a perfect rhythm on serve. As Murray came to serve for the set at 5-4 Lopez had a sniff of breaking back at 15 -30, however the Brit quickly slammed the door to double his set advantage.
The third set followed a similar pattern as Murray broke once again in the first game, with Lopez quickly running out of ideas. There was no let up from Murray who won 92% of points behind his first serve in the final set, giving Lopez little chance to break back.
In the fifth game Murray landed the killer blow, breaking the Lopez serve to love which he was now reading with little difficulty. Three aces in the following game from Murray made it 5-1 before Lopez made him serve out the match, where the Brit booked his place in the second week.
So is it a coincidence that pair met when Murray won his first Slam? Yes, it probably is. However, if the Brit is triumphant in the upcoming week, he won’t mind seeing Lopez again in other majors to come.
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