Andy Murray rejects the idea that the pressure on him at Wimbledon has lessened as a result of winning the Olympics and the US Open, and as the man in the spotlight I suppose he should know. But to us mere onlookers it seems very different. OK, the rollercoaster ride he gave his supporters in Wednesday’s quarter-final was hairy, but somehow most of us were convinced we would all come out smiling at the other end.
Too much evidence abounds to suggest it’s “pretty much the same” and most of it has to do with the London Olympics. Murray would do well to remember exactly how he felt when he took it to Roger Federer in the Olympic final here 11 months ago, just weeks after he had suffered the most crushing of defeats to the same opponent in the final of the Championships.
Centre Court had always been a home from home for the record seven-time champion, but he was made to feel distinctly unloved 11 months ago as he went down in straight sets to the British No.1. The crowd on Centre Court for today’s second semi-final, against Jerzy Janowicz, and on Sunday, should he get that far, won’t be quite as patriotic, but if he avoids the kind of slipshod start he made against Fernando Verdasco they will soon get behind him with some fervour.
It would be a serious mistake to give someone as hungry and as dangerous as the big, young Pole a set start, never mind two sets. And it would almost certainly be fatal to do so against the world No.1 Novak Djokovic.
If the Olympics didn’t exactly prove to be the making of Juan Martin Del Potro, they certainly convinced the Argentine that he could play on grass, while beating someone as good as Djokovic on it was almost enough for him to be known in future as a grass-court specialist.
Given the significance of the occasion – they were playing for the Olympic bronze medal – both players would have to possess the memory of a goldfish not to recall how that match panned out when they step back onto Centre Court. The big man won it in straight sets and he also won their last meeting, at Indian Wells in March, which ought to go some way towards evening up the 3-8 discrepancy in their head-to-head record.
“I think I'm in the fight again with the top guys,” said Del Potro, a man not given to empty threats, after beating the indefatigable David Ferrer with indecent haste in their quarter-final. They were the words that the top four players in the world have been dreading for the past four years, ever since Del Potro blew away Rafael Nadal and Federer in successive rounds to win the US Open.
If anyone doubted his ability to put a subsequent wrist operation firmly behind him they no longer do so after his courageous performance in getting up off the deck like someone who had just been pole-axed by Wladimir Klitschko to knock out Ferrer. He hasn’t dropped a set so far and nor has Djokovic; Don King himself couldn’t have done better with the match-making.
“I have a great respect for him,” said Djokovic. “He struggled with injuries in the last few years, but every time he comes back very strong because he just has this talent and qualities as a player. He uses that serve as a powerful weapon – and, of course, his forehand, that’s his signature shot.”
Murray has his own straight sets victory over the Serbian in the semi-finals of that Olympic tournament put away for a rainy day, although, of course, every day is a dry day now under the roof of the All England Club’s premier court.
The Brit has a memory of his own that he would prefer to erase – a defeat to Janowicz when they last went eyeball-to-eyeball at the Paris Masters in November; actually it was more like eyeball-to-chin because the Pole, at 6ft 8in, is one of the few players Murray has to look up to. The man from Lodz admitted it was a close-run thing – Murray had a match point – and it was his serve that did most of the damage. Janowicz hit 22 aces to Murray’s nine across the three sets.
Murray denied that Verdasco’s forehand was an issue for him in their recent encounter, but he did admit to having serious difficulty with the Spaniard’s serve, partly, perhaps, because he’s a leftie. With a top speed of 140mph, the Polish prototype fairly roars past the Spanish model while he has hit one third more aces than either Verdasco or Murray. But it’s his outrageously bold second serve, which has been averaging 121mph, that gives Murray so little room for manoeuvre. The Scot is one of the best returners in the game; he will need to be today.
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.
20:19It was the wackiest of Wimbledons with the most unlikely of headline-makers: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Kimiko-Date Krumm, Jerzy Janowicz, Sabine Lisicki, Marion Bartoli...View all