Andy Murray was described by Fernando Verdasco, the opponent he faces in Saturday night’s Dubai final, as a player who has “not just seven lives, but 700 lives”.
The Spaniard was referring to the seven match points Murray saved against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarter-finals on Thursday and how the Scot has a relentless ability to fight back no matter the position he’s in during a match.
Verdasco knows all too well how tough Murray can be and although many of their previous 13 meetings have been close, it is the world No1 who has come out on top on 12 of those occasions.
“You know how is Andy. He has not seven lives; he has 700 lives. That’s why he’s No 1 in the world, of course,” said Verdasco on Friday after defeating Robin Haase in three sets.
Murray booked his place in his second career Dubai final with a 7-5, 6-1 success over No7 seed Lucas Pouille, who had concluded his quarter-final win over Evgeny Donskoy at 1:46am on Friday morning.
Both players were tired from their last-eight battles and it affected their performance last night, but it was Murray who benefited from a Pouille letdown in the second set to wrap up the contest in straight sets.
“I don’t think it was the best match. A lot of mistakes. You know, there was some good stuff in there, I think, middle and towards the end of the first set. But neither of us served well at the beginning,” explained Murray, whose best Dubai result was a runner-up finish to Roger Federer in 2012.
“He didn’t make hardly any first serves his first few service games, and I was struggling a bit there too. I think potentially matches yesterday had something to do with that, because I think sometimes, you know, if your legs are a little bit tired, you know, that the serve is one of the first things that goes.”
Murray saw an early 3-0 lead slip away when Pouille took four games on the trot to inch ahead.
But the French No7 seed lost his focus and he double-faulted to get broken the following game for 4-4.
Murray got his first set point in the 12th game but Pouille saved it with a great volley at the end of a 19-shot rally.
But the world No1 got his hands on another chance to close out the set and this time he converted with a backhand passing shot winner.
Murray broke Pouille in his first service game of the second set and cruised to a 4-0 lead. The top seed got triple match point three games later and moved into the final on his first opportunity.
It’s Murray’s second final in three tournaments contested this season having also reached the title decider in Doha in the opening week of the year (lost it to Djokovic).
“Obviously it would be nice to pick up a win tomorrow, keep the momentum going into Indian Wells and Miami, which is, you know, a couple of tournaments where, you know, especially Indian Wells, I really want to try and have a good run there. It’s one of The Masters Series I haven’t done well at over the years. Really want to make sure that I do well there this year,” said the 29-year-old.
Verdasco entered his biggest final since finishing as runner-up in Acapulco in 2012, by defeating Haase 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-1 in the semis on Friday.
The Spaniard will be targeting an eighth ATP trophy, and his first at a 500-level tournament since Barcelona in 2010. He also had a solid run in Doha in January, where he made the semis and held five match points against Djokovic before he lost.
Progress for Pouille
Pouille was trying to reach a second final in as many weeks – was runner-up in Marseille last Sunday – but admits Murray proved once again too strong for him. The 23-year-old Dubai resident is now 0-4 against Murray head-to-head.
“I think I was playing good tennis for an hour and 15 minutes before I got too frustrated and lost my mind a little bit,” confessed Pouille.
The world No15 is pleased with his performance nonetheless these past couple of weeks.
“I’m kind of happy, because this is the first time that I win six matches in a row against players lower ranked than me. And, I mean, that’s good. That proves to me that I am now a better player with more consistency.
“And, yeah, I mean, playing indoor last week, coming here without playing any minutes on court outdoor and winning the first match, second and third match, I mean, was good.
“So now I can think about Indian Wells and the next tournament and hope to get some good result there.”
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You never expect tennis players to be good at math, especially when they’ve just stepped off the court following a stressful three-hour battle, but there is some basic arithmetic you’d think they would be able to handle.
After saving seven match points against Philipp Kohlschreiber to enter the Dubai semi-finals, Andy Murray was discussing the 31-minute tiebreak he fought through during that epic showdown.
“What was the score? 20-18? So that’s – yeah, 36 points. Yeah, I mean… yeah, obviously a long, long tiebreak,” Murray said smiling.
“And, yeah, I’ll probably never play another one like that again. I mean, I have been playing on the tour for 11, 12 years now, and nothing’s been close to that.”
We know that was a brutal match to get through, Andy, but still: 20+18=36? Really?
It wasn’t just Murray who got his numbers wrong that night. Chair umpire Renaud Lichtenstein lost track of points during the tiebreak and forget to ask the players to switch sides at 15-15, and instead they swapped at 16-16. Players should change ends every six points in a tiebreak but that Murray-Kohlschreiber breaker went so long that Lichtenstein got confused.
“I realized at 16-All. I thought we shouldn’t – yeah, we shouldn’t be changing ends at that time, and the umpire said that he forgot, and also his machine didn’t recognise it. I mean, I don’t know if the machines are made to go that high, because it doesn’t happen very often,” was Murray’s explanation.
Meanwhile, Fernando Verdasco shared his frustration about always fielding questions about his Spanish compatriot Rafael Nadal.
Verdasco, a former world No7 who is now down at No35 in the world, naturally takes a backseat to the 14-time grand slam winning Nadal at home in Spain and was understandably irked when he was asked about Rafa’s impending split with his uncle and coach Toni Nadal.
“They already asked me this question, and, yeah, at the end, they are always asking me about Nadal. And I really love him, but it’s really tiring. I know that it’s Nadal, but whatever decisions they have to make, it’s their decision. Maybe it’s the best for them,” said Verdasco.
World No1 Andy Murray, Fernando Verdasco, Robin Haase and Lucas Pouille feature in a glittering semi-final line-up at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Friday.
Spaniard Verdasco faces Haase at 5pm while top seed Murray is in action against World No15 Pouille at 7pm.
See the complete schedule below: