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Verdasco scare a timely warning for Andy Murray

Andy Murray with a backhand stroke.
by Kate Battersby
Thursday 4 July 2013

Of all the people who might perfectly sum up the plight of the British tennis fan at Wimbledon, John Cleese is an unlikely sort. Nonetheless, the ex-Python devised one particular line for his 1986 film Clockwise which encapsulates the feelings of a nation praying fervently that Andy Murray can – all together now – become the first domestic player to win the men’s title since Fred Perry in 1936.

“It’s not the despair,” Cleese’s character Brian Simpson says. “I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”

For all the shock value in the early exits of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at Wimbledon 2013, in many senses it changed nothing at all for Andy Murray. He was still required, like anyone, to win seven straight matches in order to lift the gentlemen’s trophy. Exactly who was on the other side of the net in any one round was beyond his control.

Really, could Nadal – who would have faced the Scot in the quarter-finals had he come through his section of the draw, which included Federer – have given Murray more of a test than that dished out by the world No.55 Fernando Verdasco? When the Spaniard’s serve and forehand are working as they were for much of that match, they are terrifying to behold, never mind to receive.

Too many imagined Murray’s path to the final – and, even more absurdly, the title itself – was a formality. If that needed proving to be nonsense, Verdasco wrote it in neon.

Now that Murray is in the last four, it will be Jerzy Janowicz’s intention to convert the fright Murray received in the quarter-final into actual defeat in the semi. Nothing is a done deal until the deal is done.

Of course every fact dictates that on paper the world No.2 should win at a canter. This is his 13th Grand Slam semi-final, equalling Perry’s record for the most Slam semis reached by a British man. It is his fifth consecutive Wimbledon semi, making him the most successful British man at Wimbledon in more than 70 years.

But really what makes 2013 so different in Murray’s career to date is all he has learned since  last year’s lacerating final defeat to Roger Federer, followed so quickly by his magical triumph over the Swiss on Wimbledon’s turf to capture Olympic gold, and then the epic five-set victory over Novak Djokovic to grasp his first Slam title at the US Open.

He duelled the Serb again in Melbourne for the Australian title, and fell just short – then found value in, of all things, missing Roland Garros through injury, with a new understanding that his competitive peak is finite. If you need more statistics in Murray’s favour, then he is 10-0 on grass in 2013 as a result of winning the pre-Wimbledon title at Queen’s, and on a 16-match grass court winning streak thanks to that Olympic gold. And acquiring Ivan Lendl’s coaching influence appears to have been key.

So let’s remember that Janowicz is ranked No.22, 33 places higher than Verdasco and clearly on the rise. Of course it is the Pole’s first Slam semi-final, three rounds beyond his previous best, and his first semi-final in any tournament this year.

He is the youngest Wimbledon semi-finalist since... well, Andy Murray actually in 2009, and that itself is testament to his potential. Besides, Janowicz comes into the match knowing that their career encounters are tied at just 1-1 – and moreover the Pole has the more recent victory to his name, last year in the Paris Masters 1000.

Then again, Murray has reached the final in the last three Slams he has contested. The back injury which kept him out of Roland Garros is said to be fine, but it is noticeable that he has been wearing a T-shirt under his regular tennis gear – a tactic favoured by those with back problems.

Of course Murray’s experience should tell, even if his form somehow wavers – but experience is merely useful, not necessarily definitive. All that is wise says Murray will win through to his second successive Wimbledon final. But the devil says wait and see.

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