The quarter-finals have been reached and not a set has been dropped. In the middle of a Wimbledon fortnight of shocks and upsets, that is quite some achievement so Andy Murray can heave a huge sigh of relief and relax.
And so can the battalions of supporters who oohed and aahed, who cheered and chanted, for the two hours and 37 minutes it took Scotland’s finest to beat Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 7-6, 6-1.
This was not the same blistering, commanding performance from Murray that we had seen on Friday when he marmalised Tommy Robredo. This time there were errors, there were grimaces and there were worrying moments when he felt his hip gingerly. The world No.2 has been battling a back injury for the best part of 18 months – the same injury that forced him to pull out of the French Open five weeks ago – and every time the home hero so much as raised an eyebrow, much less winced, a nervous nation held its breath.
Then again, this was the first time Murray had played a real grass court match in SW19. Sure enough, Benjamin Becker – his first round opponent – is not uncomfortable on the green stuff but the world No.92 is not in Youzhny’s class. The Russian was once a member of the world’s top 10 and was trying to reach his second consecutive Wimbledon quarter-final. In order to that, he had honed his game by reaching the final at the Halle event just a couple of weeks ago. He can welt the ball, he can volley, he has dinks and jinks and all manner of tricks up his sleeve – Youzhny was not going to be easy and Murray knew it.
“I just have to concentrate on the next match,” he said simply, dodging all talk of pressure and being the home favourite to win the trophy. “Serena Williams lost today and she doesn’t lose particularly often. Roger lost, Rafa lost – all these guys and girls are better than me and if they can lose, so can I.”
For a set, losing was the last thing on anyone’s mind. Until the Centre Court crowd witnessed their boy’s golden summer last year, they had watched his matches quietly. They appreciated his skill, they admired his play but until he was in trouble and needed a bit of moral support, they sat on their hands. Until they watched the Scot march to the Olympic gold medal, it never seemed to occur to them that could actually enjoy the experience (to be fair, watching Brits winning major championships is still something of a novelty for us in this country) but that has all changed now.
As Murray took the first set, the Centre Court faithful were having a whale of a time. They chanted his name and they cheered him on when he held a break point (rather than waiting until he faced one) to voice their support. Everything was going swimmingly in the sunshine.
And then it all got very tense. From taking the early lead in the second set, Murray lost four games on the bounce and the set was slipping away from him at alarming speed. Now he needed the help of the crowd and now they responded with gusto. When he whipped a backhand belter cross-court and fizzed it away from Youzhny’s flailing racket, they roared. That earned him the break back. When he stepped up to serve to stay in the set, they chanted his name. And when he dug himself out of a 5-3 hole in the tie-break and then closed it out with another backhand stunner, they raised the rafters. Only Murray roared louder – the relief was palpable.
With danger averted – and a brief Youzhny revival at the start of the third set suppressed – Murray was off and running into the quarter-finals and a meeting with Fernando Verdasco.
“It was a tough match,” he said. “The first couple of sets especially – and he also had a chance at the start of the third. But once I got ahead in the third set, I concentrated really hard not to let him back into the match like I did in the second set. I managed to turn the tie-break around and played a few good shots at the right time.”
He made it all sound so simple. But after all the dramas of the first six days of The Championships, a straight sets win – no matter how difficult and how tense – will go down as a simple win. It was a job well done.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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