Andy Murray’s comeback on the Challenger Tour continued as he prevailed over world #159 Blaz Rola 6-4 7-6 (9) in the Biella Challenger quarterfinals. At 30-years-old, Rola is a stalwart of the Challenger Tour and his experience showed as he put up a tremendous resistance. The match may have finished in straight sets but the Slovenian certainly gave Murray his most difficult match thus far. Here is our analysis of how the match panned out and how Murray eventually came through.
Andy Murray in the Biella Challenger Quarterfinal
First set Murray 6-4: Low break-point conversion rate and working out a tricky opponent
If fans were expecting a repeat of Murray’s 2014 Wimbledon destruction of Rola then they were lulled into a false sense of security as three consecutive unforced errors gifted Murray the first break. This was about as simple as it got for Murray though.
Murray was immediately broken back and struggled on break points from thereon in. In two consecutive games, Rola was 0-40 down and recovered to hold serve. All credit to Rola, however, who gave Murray a taste of his own medicine with some versatile play. On four of the eight break points Rola faced in these two games, he played a drop-shot and won the point. A dangerous game against one of the game’s best anticipators, but Rola executed well to keep proceedings on serve.
Despite the setbacks, Murray was able to keep his foot on the gas and did not face another break point for the remainder of the set. Though he landed less than 50% of first-serves throughout the first set, they were powerful enough to keep his first-serve points won percentage at 77%. Furthermore, he was far more solid than his opponent, hitting 11 unforced errors to his opponent’s 21 (they hit six winners apiece).
Rola is left-handed so Murray’s usual patterns of play were not an option i.e. no backhand cross-court rallies. Unlike Marterer, his first opponent this week who is also a leftie, Rola was happy to mix-up play and keep Murray on his toes. The Scot was able to scrape through the first set but Murray fans would not have been comfortable going into the second set.
Second set Murray 7-6 (9): Chaotic scenes and an important tactic in the important moments
Murray ordinarily would have taken a stranglehold on the match after a tight first set but Rola remained firm. He came through a 14-point service game with Murray exclaiming in anger on several rued opportunities.
Murray started to serve a lot better, however, as 50% of his serves in his next three service games went unreturned. Moreover, the tricky shots that were working for Rola were getting picked up by Murray – Rola lost more points in the second set than he won when he either approached the net or played a drop-shot. The pressure mounted and Rola eventually capitulated, handing Murray the break with a double fault.
The match was going swimmingly for Murray as he fashioned a match point on the Rola serve from 5-3 up. Murray got the second serve back in play but missed a regulation backhand. No fuss, however, as Murray moved 40-15 ahead at 5-4. He made both his first serves – Rola had other ideas and got both back in play, forcing the error in the proceeding rallies.
Out of nowhere, the match was back on serve. Both players served well to move the set to a tiebreak but Murray was visibly annoyed at himself. It carried into Murray’s form as some timid play saw him drop five of the first six points. A spirited effort to force a few errors got Murray back to 4-5 – just when things were getting back on track for Murray though, chaos ensued.
As a Rola forehand seemingly drifted wide, Murray screamed “Come on!” with a clenched fist. But nobody had called the ball out. The umpire and Murray got into a heated dispute that got Murray nowhere – rules are rules and without an electric line calling system to grant players a challenge, Murray’s words fell on deaf ears. Murray swallowed his pride, stepped up to the line to receive and resolutely refused to miss.
He levelled the tiebreak but Rola would get another couple of bites at the cherry. That was when where Murray’s tactical awareness shone through. Throughout the match, Murray had occasionally played a low slice-backhand down the line to Rola’s backhand, winning the point on almost every occasion.
A difficult shot to pull off without opening up the court, Murray had used it sparingly but it had awarded him the first break of the second set. He used it once again, and once again Rola’s backhand found the middle of the net. A vintage backhand pass gave Murray his fourth match point, which he converted when Rola missed a forehand.
Andy Murray’s form in Biella
The statistics for this match are fairly relevant. He could have found the first serve more often to avoid so many sticky situations. His backhand was the looser wing this evening which gave Rola plenty of look-ins.
It is, however, the specific moments of the match that are the talking points. According to Tennishead magazine, there is a less than 20% chance of a player holding serve after going down 0-40. Rola did it twice in a row in the first set against one of the greatest returners of all time. Moreover, rarely does Murray blow a 40-15 lead with two match points in hand. It suggests Murray is still suffering from match rustiness.
In the end, Murray found his match-form as he overcame a 1-5 deficit in the tiebreak and a controversial call on an important point. He was also moving well enough to neutralize Rola’s drop-shots and net approaches, which is always positive for the man with the metal hip. Murray will be happy to have gotten the better of a tricky opponent who refused to go away.
Murray next plays Mathias Bourgue of France in the semifinals of the Biella Challenger. This is a rematch of their second-round match at the French Open in 2016 when Bourgue led Murray two sets to one before succumbing to the Briton in five.
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