Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Australian Open: Andy Murray eases through to fourth round

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21: Andy Murray of Great Britain plays a forehand in his third round match against Michael Llodra of France during day six of the 2012 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)

Andy Murray's bid to reach a third successive Australian Open final cranked up a gear today as he turned in a wonderful performance to sweep past Michael Llodra and move into the fourth round.

This was the world number four at approaching his very best. He displayed all his variety to see off the one-dimensional Frenchman whose ploy to rush the net at every opportunity reaped little reward.



Murray was asked plenty of questions by an opponent who certainly played his part in an entertaining encounter on Hisense Arena but always found the answers to advance 6-4 6-2 6-0 in one hour and 49 minutes.



"There were a lot of fun rallies out there and I played well," he said.



"It was a fun tennis match which isn't normal at a grand slam."



Asked what he planned to do by way of celebration, Murray joked: "I am going to go out and get hammered!"



Llodra admitted beforehand his "only option" was all-out attack and, although he had his moments in the opening set, it was a ploy always seemingly doomed to fail.



Even though Murray failed to capitalise on three break points in the opening game, two sublime backhand passes helped create three more chances at 1-1 and from the second he dispatched a mid-court ball past his opponent for a 2-1 advantage.



A booming ace out wide denied Llodra an immediate riposte and another handed Murray a 3-1 lead.



Llodra held another break point in the sixth game but again Murray served his way out of danger before a sumptuous backhand down the line off a Llodra lob paved the way for a 4-2 advantage.



The Frenchman held and then, for a third time, threatened the Murray serve.



He held three break points but, once more, the world number four escaped trouble to deny the 31-year-old the break his enterprising approach arguably deserved.



Murray raced to 40-0 when serving for the set but found himself pegged back to deuce only to claim it with a backhand pass.



Llodra's frustration increased when Murray turned on the style in the opening game of the second set, a raft of clever passing shots handing him a break to press home his advantage.



And it got no better for the Frenchman when, having held for 1-2, he called a medical time out to have his right knee taped.



By now Murray was going through his full repertoire of blistering passes, drop shots and disguised lobs and Llodra was having a hard time clinging on to his coat tails.



He managed to remain just one break adrift, though, despite Murray drilling a short ball at his back when he could have gone either side - a shot which would, no doubt, have brought a nod of approval from Murray's new coach Ivan Lendl although the Czech may not have approved of the apologetic hug which followed.



But Murray maintained his intensity, another break moving him 5-2 up and he held his nerve in a wonderful final game, which featured numerous enthralling rallies and finished with the Frenchman throwing his towel at his opponent in mock irritation, to establish a two-set advantage.



Llodra is renown as one of the biggest jokers on tour with his his most notorious prank seeing him strip naked and hide in Ivan Ljubicic's locker at an event in Miami before jumping out to surprise the stunned Croatian.



And he was starting to look exposed on Melbourne Park's second showcourt as Murray upped the ante further in the third.



Three breaks saw him race into a 5-0 lead and he had no problems in serving it out to set up a fourth-round clash with Mikhail Kukushkin, who beat Gael Monfils in an extraordinary five-set encounter.