Murray Reaches First ATP Tour Final Since 2019

Andy Murray (photo: Wendell Teodoro / Tennis Australia)

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON, January 14, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Andy Murray just keeps getting better – at least more resilient – with age.

The 34-year-old unseeded Scotsman overcame the big-serving and big-hitting attack delivered by No. 4 seed Reilly Opelka of the United States – 20 aces and 48 winners – and rallied for a 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-4 victory in the Sydney Tennis Classic semifinals on Friday. The victory improved his win-loss record for the young season to 4-1.

By beating the 25th-ranked American, the 134th-ranked Murray has a chance to go after his 47th tou-level singles title on Saturday at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney Olympic Park. He will face No. 1 seed Aslan Karatsev of Russia, who prevented an all-Great Britain title-match affair by defeating No. 3 seed Dan Evans, 6-3, 6-7 (13), 6-3 in slightly over three hours.

“It’s already been a great week for me, big progress from anything I’ve done in the last year or so, to string four matches together like this and against top players in [Nikoloz] Basilashvili and Opelka,” said Murray, who relied on a steady ally – his return game, which helped to nullify Opelka’s big serve. “I’ll go for 47 tomorrow. It’s been a good week, I’ve played better with each match, so hopefully I’ll step it up against tomorrow.”

Indeed, Murray will go after his first ATP singles title in his first singles final since winning the title in Antwerp in 2019 over Stan Wawrkinka.

Murray described his recipe for success against Opelka this way: “You can’t really prepare for it, to be honest, you just have to try and adjust while you’re out there. I chose to block quite a few returns, to get lots in play today, which worked pretty well,” he said. “It’s tough but returning has always been one of the strongest parts of my game, and I used it well today.”

Offensively, Murray delivered the goods with 16 aces, 33 winners, and an 88-percent (50 of 57) efficiency rate in winning points on his first serve. On his returns, he won nearly half of Opelka’s second serves and did a good job of forcing errors against his opponent. Murray outpointed Opelka 106-88 during the two-hour and 24-minute match.

Next, Murray will try to contain the top seed Karatsev, ranked 20th, who has started 3-0 in his first tournament of the season. It will be their first head-to-head meeting.

The top-seeded Karatsev played spoiler in the second semifinal in denying Evans a win that would have set up the all-Great Britain battle between him and Murray. Karatsev previously beat Evans last year in his run toward winning the title at Dubai, and this time handed the Briton his first loss of the season after three straight wins last week in the ATP Cup for Great Britain followed by a pair of wins in Sydney this week.

“It was a tough match against Evans,” Karatsev said. “He’s a guy who doesn’t give you any free points at all.”

Karatsev struck nine aces and blasted 49 winners to reach his fourth ATP Tour final. It comes nearly a year after his breakthrough at the 2021 Australian Open, when he was ranked 114th and went on a semifinal run in his Grand Slam main draw debut before losing to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

“I like to be here,” Karatsev admitted when asked why he plays so well in Australia. “You arrive from winter to summer, there is nice weather and a nice atmosphere. You start the year fresh and with more energy. So, I think this is the reason.”

As he goes after his third career ATP title against Murray, Karatsev said: “I will be prepared. I have to rest a bit, prepare mentally and physically, and we will see tomorrow.”

Rinderknech reaches first ATP tour-level final

The Adelaide International 2 has yielded a first-time ATP tour-level final between its two finalists, Arthur Rinderknech of France and Thanasi Kokkinakis of Australia, following a pair of exciting semifinal matches Friday at Memorial Drive. One of them will leave Adelaide Saturday headed to Melbourne for the Australian Open with plenty of confidence and momentum in their tow.

In the first semifinal, an all-French matchup between Rinderknech and Corentin Moutet, the 58th-ranked Rinderknech lost just three points on his first serve and garnered more than half of his return points to earn a 6-1, 6-3 victory in 86 minutes. The victory advanced the 26-year-old, 6-foot-5-inch Rinderknech into his first ATP tour-level final against Adelaide native Kokkinakis, who saved two match points and outlasted the 29th-ranked No. 4 seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (10).

“It’s probably not a tough match, but more inside our heads,” Rinderknech said of his battle with the 115th-ranked qualifier Moutet during his press conference. “I’m sure everybody knows what a home-country duel match is about. There was a little bit of tension but happy to win with a pretty short time on court.

“It’s a great achievement. I’m really happy to be in the final. It’s a new step again. I made the semifinals in Kitzbühel last summer. Now, the final here for my first tournament of the year.”

As for Kokkinakis, the 25-year-old, 145th-ranked wild card had reached only one ATP Tour semifinal before the start of the 2022 season. Now, he’s made back-to-back semifinals in his hometown. Kokkinakis served 10 aces and won 75 percent (49 of 65) of his first-serve points against Cilic. He outpointed the Croatian No. 1 98-94 to advance against Rinderknech, whom he has not played on tour-level.

“You guys are sick! Honestly, it was unbelievable,” he said in his on-court interview. “Unbelievable! From the moment I walked out here, before the match had even started, I felt a buzz. It was crazy, best atmosphere I’ve played in in some time, maybe the best ever.”

Although Kokkinakis squandered a 6-2 lead in the final set tie-break, saving two match points made all the difference. He eventually won on his seventh match point.

“I played a great breaker up until 6-2 and then I tightened up like nothing else,” Kokkinakis recalled. “He got a match point and I was like, ‘I don’t know, I can either go into my shell or I can die wondering’ and I just tried to tee off on a backhand line, pulled it off, hit some big serves and I don’t know, I was just playing on adrenaline. You guys got me through, honestly.”

There will be plenty beyond pride at stake on Saturday evening. With a win, Rinderknech can move up 14 places in the rankings to No. 44, while Kokkinakis stands to gain 38 spots to No. 107 if he prevails. Up for grabs, too, is $43,180 in prize money to the winner and 250 ATP rankings points.

“Yeah, I couldn’t ask for anything more, beating quality players last week and this week,” Kokkinakis said during his press conference. “Proud of my consistency. Proud of my mental effort. Yeah, I’m stoked.”

By the numbers

Each of the four finalists – Andy Murray and Aslan Karatsev at Sydney and Arthur Rinderknech and Thanasi Kokkinakis at Adelaide – are into their first ATP Tour final of the season. Murray with a win can move up 40 spots to World No 95 with a victory Saturday.

“Quotable …”

“It’s not a good situation. I’m not going to sit here and start kicking Novak whilst he’s down. I mean, I said it the other day, it’s not a good situation for anyone.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s ended up in this sort of situation, and who knows? I don’t know what the process is from now. I don’t know what route he goes down, if he can appeal that and, you know, how long that takes, and can he still be out practicing whilst that process is going on or still competing in the tournament? I have no idea what the situation is with that.

“Yeah, just want it obviously to get resolved. I think it would be good for everyone if that was the case. It just seems like it’s dragged on for quite a long time now, and yeah, not great for the tennis, not great for the Australian Open, not great for Novak.”

Andy Murray of Great Britain, asked during his Friday press conference to comment about Novak Djokovic.