Andy Murray reached his fourth Australian Open final in the last six years by winning a bad-tempered semi-final clash with Tomas Berdych on Thursday.
Both men had played down the significance of Dani Vallverdu, now coaching Berdych after several years in Murray’s camp, during which time the Venezuelan helped Murray win the US Open, Wimbledon and Olympic titles.
But Murray admitted there had been extra tension in a tetchy encounter which he eventually won 6-7 (6/8) 6-0 6-3 7-5 in three hours and 26 minutes.
“Yeah, there was a little bit of extra tension,” the Scot said in an on-court interview. “It’s a big match. A lot was made of Dani working with him.
“We’ve been friends since we were 15 and I felt like that was a bit unfair and unnecessary. This is sport, there is more to life and I thought it was unfair and created a bit of extra tension. It was there definitely at the beginning but I think everyone calmed down after the start of the match.”
Murray also launched a staunch defence of his coach Amelie Mauresmo, whose arrival last year was thought to have caused disagreement in his camp. Vallverdu and fitness trainer Jez Green subsequently left in November.
“A lot of people criticised me for working with her and I think so far this week we have showed women can be very good coaches as well,” he added.
“Madison Keys, who reached the semi-finals here, is also coached by a woman in Lindsay Davenport and I see no reason why that can’t keep moving forward so I am very thankful to Amelie for doing it.
“I would say it was a brave choice from her and hopefully I can repay her in a few days.”
Murray will take on either Novak Djokovic or defending champion Stan Wawrinka in Sunday’s final. He lost to Djokovic in the final in 2011 and 2013 and is looking to become the first man in the open era to win the title after losing three finals. His other defeat came to Roger Federer in 2010.
The 27-year-old had looked in trouble early on as Berdych held serve with ease and threatened to create three break points in the sixth game with a superb drop shot.
Murray displayed all his hallmark speed to reach it and produce a brilliant angled winner to avoid going 0-40 down, but then limped back to the service line and looked to mouth the word “calf” to his box.
Despite grimacing in pain for the rest of the game, Murray held serve to level at 3-3 but then lost his next service game and Berdych served for the set, only to be broken back having previously conceded just two points in four service games.
That prompted a roar of celebration apparently in the direction of Vallverdu, and Berdych did not look impressed by Murray’s reaction as the players crossed at the net.
Murray was even less impressed when Berdych asked for some balls to be changed during the 11th game, the Scot complaining to umpire Pascal Maria about the time taken to do so with the score at deuce.
And the bad atmosphere continued after Berdych saved a set point on his way to winning the tie-break, Murray complaining to the umpire that Berdych had said something to him as they sat down. Maria spoke to Berdych who insisted all he had said was: “Good play Tomas.”
That was just the second set Murray had lost in the championship, but he quickly set about ensuring Berdych would lose his first one of the fortnight in return.
Two breaks of serve in the first four games, aided by a run of 10 straight points, helped Murray charge into a 5-0 lead and there was nothing Berdych could do to stem the tide.
Murray broke for a third time in the set to take it 6-0 and, after a first set lasting 77 minutes, it had taken the Scot just 30 minutes to get back on level terms and leave Berdych looking for a plan B.
The first five games of the third set went with serve and it looked certain that the sixth would as well as Berdych moved 40-0 up.
However, back-to-back double faults allowed Murray back into the game and, after seeing one break point saved, the world number six produced two clean winners to gain the vital break.
Murray consolidated the break in ideal fashion by holding to love and, after Berdych had reduced his deficit, another service hold gave the Briton the set 6-3 for a two-sets-to-one lead.
Berdych looked to have no way back into the match but made a real fight of it in the fourth set, forcing two break points on Murray’s serve in the sixth game.
Murray saved the first before being given a time violation warning by the umpire, who seemingly did not realise Murray had delayed serving due to the reaction of his fiancee Kim to the previous point being replayed on the big screen.
Murray pointed that out after saving the second break point to level at 3-3 and eventually was able to force break points of his own on the Berdych serve, the Czech serving a crucial double fault to fall 15-40 behind.
That made it six double faults for the match compared to just five aces and when he hit a backhand long on the next point, Murray had the vital break and served out to love with his 14th ace sealing a dramatic win.