The Tipsarevic

Miami Masters, Quarterfinals

(4) Murray d. (9) Tipsarevic, 4/6 6/3 6/4

‘Murray has now won eleven of twelve points on the The Tipsarevic’s second serve,’ declared Barry Cowan in the Sky Sports commentary. I’m not sure precisely when ‘Tipsarevic’ became ‘The Tipsarevic’, thereby transforming from a surname into a title, like the Dalai Lama or the Lord of the Dance. Perhaps it has always been thus, and something had been lost in the translation from Serbian. Either way, Janko, the current incarnation of The Tipsarevic, was having a bugger of a time defending his second serve in the deciding set.

Not unlike the Dalai Lama and Michael Flatley, Janko also has a gift for aphoristic concision roughly equal to Alfred Polgar’s, as reaffirmed in an interview that appeared on yesterday: ‘I am […] trying to make my life in a way that 2 and 2 and 2 and 2 adds up to eight. I am not trying to divide or multiply anything.’ If it came from my six year old daughter I doubt anyone would be very impressed, but few expect professional athletes to be so adept at basic arithmetic, nor to draw so subtle a parallel to their own lives: Oh, it’s a metaphor!

The same concision cannot be ascribed to Peter Fleming, who commemorated a missed volley from Andy Murray by remarking that ‘it merely confirms the axiom that the point is not over until the ball has bounced twice . . . or has bounced outside the court, I suppose’. Since he’d already abandoned sonority for accuracy, he probably should have mentioned some of the other ways a point can end. It’d be a hell of an axiom, as breezily epigrammatic as the ITF’s Rules of Tennis.

By the time any of this occurred, early in the third set, the match had settled into a predictable rut. Ceding to The Tipsarevic’s preference in such matters, we may express the mathematical equation as: slow Miami surface + superior defensive opponent = inevitable loss. Last year he went out to Gilles Simon, who is basically a smaller, less powerful and less creative version of Murray. In the game in question, which was the fifth of the third set, a couple of errors from the Serb eventually saw Murray break. Forgetting his own credo, Tipsarevic set about multiplying these mistakes, which more or less allowed the Scot to coast through to the set and the match. Tipsarevic would eventually amass a mighty 51 unforced errors. Many of these came at the end of lengthy, enterprising rallies, and thus weren’t unreasonable even if unforced. But these are the kinds of rallies that Murray is almost always going to win, and without redlining his game there was little Tipsarevic could do about it. His choice, once Murray got his act together, was between a reckless error immediately, or a desperate one eventually.

Through the early going, however, the strange thing had been that Murray had not been winning all that many of these extended points. The Scot’s foot speed is such that even playing badly he won’t concede many winners on a court like Miami, which means that an off-day will generally express itself in errors. Last year’s notorious loss to Alex Bogomolov Jnr at this venue was a squalid testament to this, as he tracked down everything, and then launched everything into the net. Today, he was broken in the opening game, but broke straight back. He broke again, and led 4/1. From there he dropped serve twice, and lost the set. Constant breaking of serve can be exciting, but today proved that it doesn’t have to be, as the women have been proving all week. Murray was listless, irritated, and clearly discomfited, which was initially easy to miss, since he wasn’t ostentatiously clutching at his leg, which is his usual shorthand signal for any ailment whatsoever. He fell behind an early break in the second set, broke back, and was broken again, whereupon he hollered for a medic.

Court-side microphones revealed that he couldn’t keep any fluids down, since there was too much air in his gut. The doctor worked his magic, which I think consisted of an antacid tablet and a kind word. The magic lay in the miraculous speed with which the tablet took hold. Almost immediately, Murray’s form picked up. He didn’t start playing like Djokovic, it’s true. But he did start playing like Murray, which enabled him to steady and remain in rallies long enough for The Tipsarevic to commence multiplying his errors. By the end Murray was playing exactly like himself. He next faces the winner of Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

As for Tipsarevic, he was due back on court in an hour, so that he and The Kubot might face Max ‘The Beast’ Mirnyi and Daniel ‘The Canadian Doubles Veteran’ Nestor.

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