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Murray was in his first final since 2019 but was out-gunned by Russian
Karatsev impresses on way to third title in 11 months
Both men looking to take good form into next week's Australian Open
Heartbreak stalks Andy Murray in Australia, the country where he has played five major finals and lost the lot. Even this week, having unfurled some of his best tennis in years, he collected the consolation prize again.
Murray’s fine run at Sydney’s old Olympic Park ended in a 6-3, 6-3 defeat on Saturday. In the end, he was well beaten, cracked like a walnut by the giant calves and biceps of his relentless Russian opponent Aslan Karatsev. Still, this was Murray’s first ATP final in 27 months. It feels as though he has turned a corner.
At the post-match presentation ceremony, Murray broke down while thanking his wife and four children back home. "I don't know if you're watching but I miss you all," he said, in a choked-up voice. He needed a moment to compose himself before continuing his short speech, in which he expressed appreciation for the fans’ fervent support. "I've really missed playing in front of these sorts of crowds and these sorts of matches,” he said. “Unfortunately the result didn't go my way tonight but I'll keep trying my best to come back and have more nights like this."
Australians warm to Murray in a way they never did to Tim Henman, say. His Scottish roots save him from being just another Pom. The bagpipes rang out at Sydney’s Ken Rosewall Arena, and the support was only pointing one way.
But Karatsev has been striking the ball with immense authority all week, and he played only one dicey game – midway through the second set, when he needed to stave off five break points. Otherwise, he delivered a rare combination of fiery aggression and precise control, striking 27 winners in all. On this form, Karatsev could be a dark horse for Monday’s Australian Open - the same tournament where he instigated his late-career breakthrough by reaching the semi-finals last year.
Sydney turned out to be Karatsev’s third ATP trophy, but it could – on another day - have been a 47th for Murray, who has set himself the motivational target of scoring a half-century of titles. He might have skipped this event altogether, had he not begun the season with a deflating loss to Facundo Bagnis in Melbourne almost a fortnight ago. Now, he will be mighty glad he went. For a while now, Murray has been looking to convince himself – and everyone else – that he has more great days ahead of him. This week should go a long way towards that end. Some of his tennis – particularly during the semi-final win over 6ft 11in lighthouse Reilly Opelka – was of vintage quality, harking back to the days before his right hip had to be resurfaced. (This is a euphemism for “replaced”.)
Admittedly, he fell away a bit during Saturday’s final, seeing his first-serve percentage drop to a disappointing 51 per cent. (It had been 67 per cent against Opelka.) But then Karatsev was clubbing his returns with such venom and accuracy that Murray was never able to get comfortable. It seems appropriate that the Russian’s initials also apply to the world’s most popular assault rifle, the AK-47.
Perhaps Murray was also running low on fuel, after his longest week of matchplay since 2019. Still, one of the other big hitters he had overcome on his road to the final was world No.23 Nikoloz Basilashvili - the same Georgian whom he has been drawn to play at Melbourne Park on Tuesday.
The last time Murray appeared at the Australian Open - all the way back in 2019 - he lost to Roberto Bautista Agut in a thrilling five-setter, whereupon the big screen broadcast “happy retirement” messages from the rest of the Big Four. After all those injury setbacks, everyone thought he was preparing to walk into the sunset. But he wasn’t ready then, and he isn’t ready now.
Murray beaten by Karatsev - as it happened
Andy Murray speaks...
On the winner Aslan Karatsev...
"He's a had a fantastic week, he arrived late recovering from Covid, that makes his performance even more impressive."
On making his first final since 2019...
"It's been a long road to get back here (to a final) so I'd like to thank my team and my family back home - I miss you all."
On the final...
"It was an amazing atmosphere, it was so good. I have missed playing in front of these crowds and in these matches. Unfortunately the result didn't go my way tonight but I'll keep trying my best to come back and have more nights like this."
Impressive stuff from Karatsev
That was hugely impressive from the world No.20- if he plays like that then he's a definite contender for the Australian Open title.
It was a bit of a flat performance from Murray, he never really got going. But that was largely down to the great, powerful hitting of Karatsev, who out-gunned his illustrious opponent.
KARATSEV BEATS MURRAY 6-3, 6-3 and wins the Sydney title
Murray has the early advantage, attacking Karatsev's second serve to go 0-15 up. Murray then shows great defence, doing everything to stay in the point, deep behind the baseline, until Karatsev hits his umpteenth forehand winner - great tennis from both men, awesome to watch.
From there the Russian wins the next two points - again the powerful forehand prominent - to earn two championship points.
A double fault allows Murray to save the first and a brilliant backhand winner rushing into the net saves the second. Brilliant stuff from the Scot.
Karatsev misses his first serve again BUT this time Murray cannot capitalise as his opponent hits a delicious backhand winner down the line. And the Russian makes no mistake this time on match point to take the match and title 6-3, 6-3.
Murray 3-6, 3-5* Karatsev (*denotes server)
Murray is up 40-15 when another powerful groundstroke from Karatsev forces the error from Murray - a forehand into the net. But a long backhand from the Russian means he will now have to serve for the match and title. Murray did what he had to do there.
Murray 3-6, 2-5* Karatsev (*denotes server)
Karatsev has no worries on his serve this game - he hits yet another forehand winner to get to 30-0. Not content with that winner the Russian plays an even better forehand winner, this one on the run, to make it 40-0 and from there he holds to love.
Murray will now serve to stay in the match.
Murray* 3-6, 2-4 Karatsev (*denotes server)
Murray is still fighting here, that last game could have easily taken the wind completely out of his sails but he shows impressive battling qualities to hold to 30.
Murray 3-6, 1-4 Karatsev* (*denotes server)
Murray show great defence (of course he does...) to somehow keep in a rally after a Karatsev forehand smash, but alas the Russian takes the point with a volley at the net. That makes it 15-15 but a Karatsev backhand into the net sends the crowd wild and makes it 15-30, a sliver of an opportunity for Murray to break the Russian.
That sliver becomes a proper slice as another Karatsev error gifts Murray two break points - his first of the match, A backhand winner from the Russian saves the first, then after a brutal rally Karatsev saves the second thanks to a Murray forehand into the net. Murray then has another break point thanks to a Karatsev forehand into the net BUT another forehand winner from the Russian gets it back to deuce.
A long Murray backhand gives Karatsev game point BUT Murray comes out on top after the longest rally of the match, the Scot dominating the rally and winning the point with a backhand winner on the run. A wide forehand from Karatsev gives Murray his fourth break point BUT again he cannot capitalise.
Murray has a fifth break point after a backhand into the net from the Russian AND AGAIN Karatsev summons up huge will power, energy and a touch at the net to get it to deuce for the umpteenth time.
From there the Russian wins the next two points for a monumental hold in 13 minutes.
With that game has gone Murray's chances of victory, you have to think...
Murray* 3-6, 1-3 Karatsev (*denotes server)
Karatsev is playing great tennis and there's little Murray can do as the Russian whips out yet another forehand winner down the line. BUT the crowd are on the Scot's side and he gets it to 40-15. A tired-looking forehand into the net gets it back to 40-30 but any worry that another break was on its way is banished by a Murray ace. A much-needed game for the three-time grand slam champion.
Murray 3-6, 0-3 Karatsev* (*denotes server)
Karatsev is all about power BUT he shows great touch too with a lovely drop shot volley crosscourt winner - finesse as well as fury. The Russian races to a 40-0 lead and he holds to love thanks to a long Murray backhand. The finish line is in sight for the impressive Russian.
Murray* 3-6, 0-2 Karatsev (*denotes server)
The way things are going Murray has to win this game, but Karatsev is in complete control in the rallies and gets to 0-15 up with a backhand winner down the line. Murray seems a bit flat and possibly a bit tired are this week's exertions and he's getting out-muscled here. Karatsev has two break points and Murray gets in a great first serve to save the first break point. Another big first serve forces the error from the Russian to get it to deuce.
But a great backhand winner down the line gets Karatsev a third break point - sometimes you have to admit there's little you can do and Murray looks to his coach as if to say 'what's happening?'. Murray then spanks a backhand wide and Karatsev has another early break and all the momentum is with the Russian.
Murray 3-6, 0-1 Karatsev* (*denotes server)
Murray has to try and mix things up here and make the Russian rush. He does that by standing up to the Karatsev serve to win a point and make it 15-15. But the Karatsev serve is powerful and heavy and it's hard to dictate terms off it - the next two Karatsev serves force Murray errors to make it 40-15. There then follows a good rally - with Murray defending well from way behind the baseline - that ends with a forehand smash winner from the Russian.
Murray fans are still cheering
KARATSEV TAKES THE FIRST~ SET 6-3 - Murray* 3-6 Karatsev (*denotes server)
Murray is under pressure at 0-30 down, but a great first serve wide to the Karatsev forehand gets it to 15-30. That's followed up with an ace - his fourth of the match - levels it at 30-30. BUT that ace is followed up with a double fault and Karatsev has a set point. And the Russian makes no mistake to take the first set in 35 minutes.
Karatsev was simply too strong for Murray in that set. That plus his faulty second serve means the Scot is constantly under pressure.
Murray 3-5 Karatsev* (*denotes server)
Another display of power and precision from Karatsev as he races to a 40-0 lead - again the big forehand to the fore. Another forehand winner means the Russian holds to love.
Karatsev is hitting Murray off the court, he's already produced 13 winners and now Murray is serving to stay in the set.
Murray looking for Sydney success
Murray* 3-4 Karatsev (*denotes server)
Murray is nothing if not canny and he displays two great touches and nous to get to 30-0. A wayward forehand, however, gets Karatsev into the game at 30-15. But from there Murray makes no mistake winning the next two points moving the Russian around the court and forcing the errors.
Murray 2-4 Karatsev* (*denotes server)
The pair exchange backhands at the baseline before Karatsev again shows off his power with a forehand crosscourt winner. Another BIG (yep it's deserving of the caps lock) forehand makes it 40-15 and then yet another fine forehand wins him the game.
The Russian has started very well and looks confident. It's clear Murray will need to find something close to his A-game to win this, going on the first six games.
Murray* 2-3 Karatsev (*denotes server)
A wonderful crosscourt forehand winner from Murray gets the crowd on its feet cheering for the three-time Grand Slam champion. Karatsev is returning well, however, and Murray's second serve isn't working at the moment as the Russian attacks Murray's second serve to get to 30-15. A Murray ace gives him the two-point buffer but again the second serve again lets him down. BUT Murray attacks the net at 40-30 and plays a great forehand winner on the run to secure the game.
Murray 1-3 Karatsev* (*denotes server)
Karatsev powers his first ace of the match to get to 30-15 up, and like the overused cliche about London buses, the second follows the first to get to 40-15. Another powerful serve, which Murray does well to reach, wins him another service game. The Russian is all about power and on the evidence of the first four games it's not hard to see why.
The crowd is backing Murray
Murray* 1-2 Karatsev (*denotes server)
Karatsev is too lazy and cute the first point of the game as he slaps a volley into the net when hitting a winner would have been so much easier. Murray then wins two quick points, the second of which is his first ace, to get to 40-0 and a long Karatsev forehand means the Scot wins his first game to love.
Murray 0-2 Karatsev* (*denotes server)
Karatsev takes the ball early and another powerful forehand winner gets him to 30-0 up. That's soon 40-0 thanks to a long Murray forehand. And in double-quick time Murray finds himself 2-0 down.
Murray* 0-1 Karatsev (*denotes server)
It's Murray to serve first and he's put off by a strange noise (not sure if it's inside or outside the stadium...). Once he gets under way Karatsev shows great touch with a drop-shot winner to go 0-15 up. Murray then double faults and the Russian has the early advantage at 0-30.
Karatsev is known for his power and he hits a blistering forehand winner off Murray's first serve to bring up two break points. Murray saves the first by virtue of a long Karatsev backhand and then saves the second thanks to a wayward Karatsev forehand. But a more pin-point forehand from the Russian gives him a third break point and he makes no mistake this time to get the early break.
Karatsev is all about power and he muscled Murray in that opening game.
The players are out on the court
It seems a lot of the support is for Murray.
Seeing him out there on court in a final in Australia reminds me of that supremely awkward 'farewell' the Australian Open did for him back in 2019. It was one level below what can be described as a professional obituary with tributes on the big screen from the great and good of the game. It was really awkward at the time (considering he hadn't actually retired and, three years later still (obviously!) hasn't) but even more so now...anyway, the match is about to start.
While you were sleeping
In Australia Novak Djokovic was again detained after authorities ripped up his visa for a second time and declared the unvaccinated tennis star a threat to the public. Read about it here.
But as that was happening long-time rival Rafa Nadal was giving his two-pennies worth on what an Australian Open would be like without the nine-time champion. Spoiler alert: the Spaniard says the tournament will cope just fine...
Who is Aslan Karatsev?
Is 28 years old and hails from Russia
Currently ranked No.20 in the ATP world rankings
Has been as high as 15th
Has two ATP titles to his name, both won last year in Dubai and Moscow
Putting in the hard yards
— ATP Tour (@atptour) January 15, 2022
Andy Murray hoping for 'amazing' start to the year
While the focus of the tennis world was set on the travails of Novak Djokovic former world No.1 Andy Murray fought back from a set down to beat American fourth seed Reilly Opelka 6-7(6) 6-4 6-4 and book a spot in his first final since winning in Antwerp in 2019.
After a close first set which went to a tiebreaker, Murray broke early in the second set and rode on his lead to claim the set 6-4.
Murray carried his momentum into the deciding set, breaking Opelka's serve again to take a 5-4 lead before securing victory with a composed love hold to set up a showdown with top-seeded Aslan Karatsev, who prevailed 6-3 7-6(13) 6-3 over Dan Evans.
"I lost a tight first set and it's not easy to come back against someone who serves like that, but I kept working and taking opportunities," said Murray, who could lift his 47th title on the ATP tour with a win in the final on Saturday.
"Returning has always been a strong part of my game, and I used it well [against Opelka].
"It would be amazing to start the year with a trophy, but it's already been a big week for me, to string four results together like this is much more than I managed last year."
It wasn’t to be an all-British final as Karatsev battled to a 6-3 7-6(13) 6-3 win over British third seed Evans in a gruelling match that lasted over three hours.
The Russian won the opening set comfortably and Evans rallied back to save three match points in a lengthy tiebreaker to force the decider.
Evans, furious that his opponent was able to take a five-minute break to change his clothes before the third set, fell behind 3-0 before breaking back to level, but Karatsev secured a break to go 5-3 up and seal victory with his fourth match point.
"It was a tough match especially against Evans who does not give free points at all," Karatsev said.
"In the second he moved better and didn't make much mistakes, my level dropped down a bit. I found the energy for the third set and am happy to win the match."