There was a time when Andy Murray and Gilles Simon were considered to be of the same disposition. The two were craftsmen at work on the court, employers of the cat-and-mouse school of tennis who enjoyed nothing more than picking and prodding at their opponents, absorbing their power, and sending it back at them in a most infuriating way.
The final of the 2008 Madrid Masters, for example, the last year the Spanish tournament was held indoors before it moved to clay, was a very good example of like for like.
But a lot has changed since then. The Murray of 2011, 2012 and now 2013 has legs twice as thick as those he used to scamper about on. Simon, by contrast, has barely changed physically. He was even asked on Sunday whether he would prefer to be more muscular.
“There is no way I will be one day like him,” Simon said of Murray.
“I think he improved a lot. I remember when he was still in the first years. He was an awesome player already, but physically, sometimes cramping. He could be tired. [But] it’s a long time, I never saw him tired on the court anymore.”
What the Frenchman would have given to be in that position on Monday evening. As expected, try as he had to recover, his near five-hour contest against Gael Monfils on Saturday had taken its toll, leaving the 14th seed with little to offer against Murray when they met on Hisense Arena.
Murray was a little out of sorts himself, distracted perhaps by knowing his opponent was physically underdone. But he still found the energy necessary to win in straight sets, 6-3 6-1 6-3 in an hour and 35 minutes.
“It was kind of tough,” Murray said. “A tough situation for both players, more obviously for him. After the first few games, it didn’t feel that competitive. That’s why it becomes hard because the emotions aren’t quite into it. You’re not quite necessarily feeling pressure, but you’re wanting to try to finish the match as quickly as possible.”
It was certainly quick. Breaking Simon’s serve to start, Murray handed back the advantage almost immediately with what was deemed by some to be his worst service game of the tournament. But no matter; he broke the Simon serve again, leading 3-2 with a break after the first 21 minutes. There were few fireworks after that, Simon’s game littered with unforced errors as he struggled to get his feet to move, while Murray retained his advantage.
The second set weighed even more heavily in the Briton’s favour, and, although he again dropped serve, he broke serve thrice to win the set for the loss of just that game.
The third became target practice for Murray, Simon leaving large parts of the court unattended as the US Open champion picked off the winners one by one.
There was little more to it than that, and as such, there are worries that Murray will be unprepared for a likely semi-final against Roger Federer, should all play out according to the script. But Murray looks at it both ways.
“Who knows? He [Simon] got tested very hard in his last round and couldn’t compete today.” Murray said. “You just got to work hard on the days off, practice all the things you need to do better, hope that when the time comes that when you’re tested you play better.”
Murray’s statistics, he was first to admit, were far from excellent. But as always in Grand Slam tennis, progressing with the minimum effort can stand the bearer in good stead later on. And it is clear that Murray has his sights very clearly set on later on.
Wednesday’s quarterfinal, against unseeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, will be Murray’s fourth in a row at Melbourne Park, and his 10th Grand Slam last eight since Roland Garros 2010.
“He’s playing good tennis,” Murray said of Chardy.
“He serves well, he’s very aggressive off his forehand. His backhand is his weaker side, for sure. He hits a lot of slice, doesn’t come over it too much. He likes to come forward.
“He can be erratic. But when his game is on, he’s a very tough player to play because he doesn’t give you too much rhythm. And he really goes for it.”