Andy Murray’s French Open semi-final against Novak Djokovic halted by storm

Andy Murray leaves the court after bad weather halted his French Open semi against Novak Djokovic

For most of the first two-and-a-quarter hours of their French Open semi-final here on Friday, Andy Murray was lost in a miasma of helplessness against Novak Djokovic, who looked every inch the undisputed best player in the world that his deeds and form have suggested for at least a year.

Two days ago he beat Rafa Nadal to a pulp in three sets: that’s Rafael Nadal Parera from Mallorca, owner of nine French Open titles, who had given Djokovic barely a sniff here in six previous matches. Now Djokovic was 6-3, 6-3 and 5-4 up in the third against Murray, whom he had beaten seven times in a row, and was mere moments from reaching the final for the third time, all his peers smashed.

He would then, said the script, beat Stan Wawrinka in the final, win Wimbledon and the US Open, sweeping the four majors for the first time since Rod Laver did so for the second time 46 years ago. What could possibly go wrong?

The atmosphere on sun-baked Court Philippe Chatrier was soporific. Patrons were bored and disappointed by the Serb’s brilliant butchery. Murray could not properly get into the fight, so perfect was his tormentor, and fans shifted in their seats, wondering, no doubt, if they should leave early to avoid the storm that was said to be on its way.

They had just sat through nearly four hours of a delightful hors d’oeuvre in the first semi-final, Wawrinka, Roger Federer’s conqueror in the last eight, finally crushing their hero, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets. This, though, was a disappointing main course.

However, Murray is the most perverse of athletes. In the space of a few minutes, he changed the entire tone and course of the match, somehow reining in the seemingly rampant Djokovic.

Murray aced to hold to love and stay in the tournament at five-all. Then on the Serb’s serve in what he must have thought were the concluding moments of his work for the day, Djokovic dollied the most complacent of drop shots a tad long. Murray retrieved and was lobbed but, swivelling on the retreat near the baseline, conjured up a dazzling crosscourt winner that alerted the crowd to the possibility of something special.

Murray rapidly grabbed three set points on his serve and Djokovic obliged by easing the ball an inch long. The question on everyone’s lips now was not what restaurant to book for an early dinner but could Djokovic finish the job in the fading light, or would Murray level at two sets apiece?

As it happened, they ran out of time and fading light, splashes of rain and hail, and a whipping wind adding to the case for bringing them in at 3-3 in the fourth, with Djokovic 6-3, 6-3, 5-7 up after three hours and eight minutes. It was impossible to guess who might win.

They will resume at 1pm local time, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Lucie Safarova – if the American can drag herself from her sickbed. Djokovic will serve – and the rest of us will hold our breath, at least for half an hour or so.

The clever money might still be on Djokovic to win. Certainly, he looked keenest to leave the battlefield last night, but he will be renewed and refocused in the morning.

What they will not lack, either of them, is motivation: there was more than a little edge out thereon Friday, a few “Melbourne moments”, as they have come to be known.

When Djokovic beat Murray in the Australian Open final this year, the Serb’s wobble towards the end of the first set when he looked ready to collapse before a remarkable and quick recovery caught Murray looking the other way, was an early and decisive turning point. Murray was not pleased – with Djokovic or himself.

There were a few such flashpoints in this match. There was the usual exploratory sparring for the first 25 minutes or so before Djokovic steadily took the upper hand. After an exchange of 22 full-blooded groundstrokes, he got the first break opportunity but Murray’s nerve held and he found a third ace at the right moment. It would be the last period of genuine parity until the end of the third set.

In the fifth game there was the first Melbourne moment as Djokovic circled his hand above his head as if he were suffering dizziness. He was fit enough to scamper the most outrageous save, though, held, then broke in the eighth game to serve out the set with his second ace after 45 minutes.

Murray, who was barely hanging on in the brutal exchanges, made it hard for himself when his backhand thumped the net to hand Djokovic another break to lead 3-2. The ball was flying from Djokovic’s racket with lethal speed, depth and precision to pin the Scot deep, even on his own serve.

Djokovic’s second Melbourne moment”arrived in the seventh game of the second set, Djokovic feeling at his hip on Murray’s serve – yet the world No3 still had to fight like a tiger to save two break points and hold.

Having taken the first set with an ace, Djokovic sealed the second when Murray horrendously butchered a smash. Murray had played better than this throughout the tournament – but he was not playing Djokovic then.

The Austrian Jürgen Melzer is the only player to come from two sets down against Djokovic, in the quarter-finals here five years ago. Murray has done that seven times in his career – but, again, not against Djokovic. Perhaps he will change all that on Saturday afternoon.

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