Well, here we are again. Andy Murray’s four-set quarter-final victory over David Ferrer has sent him through to the semi-finals at Wimbledon for the fourth straight year. His match-up against Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has raised hope among an expectant British public, who anticipate the fourth seed will maintain his dominant head-to-head record against the Frenchman and become the first Brit since 1938 to reach the men’s singles decider at the All England Club.
Thankfully, the pesky Rafael Nadal and American Andy Roddick – Murray’s vanquishers in the past three years – were both eliminated earlier in the tournament. Taking a look back at Murray’s previous semi-final appearances, a trend emerges – each time he is ousted by an opponent willing to be more aggressive when presented with the opportunity.
What has Murray learnt from those defeats? We’ll find out on Friday when he takes on Tsonga in the second match of the day on Centre Court.
2009 semi-finals: Roddick d Murray 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(5)
Murray was unlucky to encounter Roddick on a day the American brought out some of the best tennis of his career. Roundly criticised for not backing up his monstrous first serve with equally aggressive baseline play, Roddick committed to attacking at all costs in this battle – and was rewarded.
In a fabulous display of high-quality tennis, little separated the pair in the opening set. Perhaps Murray had a little more pop on his groundstrokes, yet this was countered by Roddick’s successful net ventures and superior serve. Scoring the only break of the set with a backhand winner down the line, Roddick took a one-set lead.
Murray emulated his opponent in the second, playing more aggressively and rewarded with a service break in the opening game, an advantage he clung to for the rest of the set. Yet soon it was Roddick turning the tables on the young Brit. He saved three break points in the opening game – two with winners – and then broke in the fourth game to lead 3-1. Although he stumbled when it came to serving out the set at 5-3, when it eventually progressed to a tie-break, Roddick came through.
Games went on serve in the fourth, and soon another set had to be decided by a breaker. It was a tense affair, but following the theme of the match, Roddick benefitted from taking the initiative in rallies. He worked Murray into a precarious position on match point and fell to his knees in disbelief when the Brit missed a backhand into the net.
2010 semi-finals: Nadal d Murray 6-4, 7-6(6), 6-4
David Beckham’s presence in the crowd did little to help Murray in the opening set. He dropped serve after an error in the ninth game to fall behind 4-5, and coughed up another mistake to hand Nadal the set.
Murray played more consistently in the second set, especially important against an opponent who was refusing to give any cheap points away. In a tense tie-break, the crowd went wild when Murray gained a set point after Nadal uncharacteristically double-faulted. Yet the Spaniard’s poise under pressure shone through – he ventured to net and picked off a drop-volley winner to save it.
Soon down two sets to love, Murray kept hopes alive with an early break of serve in the third set. But he couldn’t maintain his level. With errors proving costly, his serve was broken in the eighth and 10th games, helping Nadal to a straight-sets victory.
The loss was by no means a disgrace, especially in retrospect. Having won the French Open a month earlier, Nadal went on to capture the Wimbledon and US Open titles to complete one of the finest seasons in tennis history.
2011 semi-finals: Nadal d Murray 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4
Murray had his shot at revenge when he took on Nadal at the same stage of The Championships 12 months on. Yet the Spaniard again proved too large an obstacle to overcome.
It didn’t look that way in the first set. Despite Nadal looking stronger in the baseline exchanges, Murray was able to score the only service break of the set to take an early lead. It was an outcome which may have broken any other opponent’s spirit.
Not Nadal’s. The world No.1 raised his already-high level to pull off some unbelievable winners, while the Brit’s game lost its flow, becoming tight and error-prone. He missed an overhead well long to hand Nadal a service break, and after dropping the second set, it was his forehand that broke down in the third to hand the Spaniard another break.
Nadal’s forehand, by contrast, was on fire, and he ripped a forehand passing-shot winner for a second break. He had soon secured a two-sets-to-one lead. He scored an immediate break in the fourth too, with Murray’s unforced errors – or perhaps forced, given the pressure Nadal was applying – again proving costly.
Nadal maintained his break buffer for the rest of the set. Although Murray saved a match point in the eighth game with an ace, it wasn’t enough to prevent Nadal serving out the match for a place in his fifth Wimbledon final.