What is it about British No.1s and Wimbledon? Andy Murray has just picked up where Tim Henman left off in taking his fans to hell and back. Except that Murray has managed to make it over the next hump, whereas with Tiger Tim it invariably ended in tears at the semi-final stage.
As Paul Hayward says in The Daily Telegraph, “No one could ever call the Murray vigil dull. The year of the smooth path to the final turned out to be strewn with rocks. Murray warned us that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal going out would not make it easy. If the first week was calm for him the second was torrid, with Fernando Verdasco and Jerzy Janowicz both in ambush mode, and a row about the roof reviving the John McEnroe era (except that Murray lacks McEnroe’s Manhattan fury).”
His colleague at the Telegraph, Michael Deacon, describes this particular rollercoaster ride with Murray thus: “This was a night of knuckle-gnawing anxiety and dread. Each time Murray won a key point it wasn’t joy the crowd felt, however much they cheered and clapped: it was relief.
“Seriously: forget, for a moment, the triumphant result. From beginning to end, your stomach felt as though it was eating itself. Your intestines were tying themselves in knots. Your heart hammered against your ribs, pleading like a prisoner for release. You feared that at any moment your internal organs would try to make a break for it by vaulting clean out of your mouth.”
At least now we have been introduced formally to Janowicz after getting to know a little about the big Pole from his breakthrough exploits last November at the Paris Masters.
Matthew Engel, in the Financial Times, seems to be pleased to make his acquaintance. “A week ago, no one outside Poland, barring tennis obsessives, would have been able to distinguish between Jerzy Janowicz and a Jersey cow. Well, we know now. He is 6ft 8in, has a serve that flirts with 150mph, and comes down on unsuspecting opponents like the defender of a medieval castle hurling boiling oil on the riotous peasantry below. His ball-toss is a hazard to passing aircraft. What’s more, he is agile, skilful and original, capable of switching to some of the tiddliest dinks in the business.
“He is also 22, and has emerged as potentially the best of the young hustlers. For Murray, now 26, this match was like staring at his own mortality. If he could not beat Janowicz now, what might happen a year or two hence? No British male has won Wimbledon since Edward VIII was on the throne. If Murray’s window of opportunity shuts, the next champ may have to wait until William V.”
Simon Barnes, of The Times, uses similar imagery, but objects to the noises made by Janowicz as he fired his missiles. “He has the wingspan of a condor and a serve like a trebuchet, a medieval siege weapon that hurls missiles with venom and intermittent accuracy,” he writes. “It’s a shame that he makes such unattractive vomit-noises as he does so, but that’s the modernist in him. There’s a lot more to him than the serve, though: a withering forehand, a taste for the volley and a deep delight in the drop-shot, which he used again and again to punish Murray for standing deep.”
James Lawton, in The Independent, applauds the new Murray’s resilience, writing: “Murray again had to fight his way back from a perilous edge. He had to show that the old Andy Murray had left the premises, that he was in charge of both himself and a situation so fraught that at one point in the not so distant past it might have had him raging at the moon.”
The Telegraph’s Simon Briggs reports on how the relationship between Murray and Janowicz became a little frosty during the match. “One of the wild men of tennis, Janowicz is not a player who worries about his popularity rating in the locker room. He and Murray were niggling away at each other throughout the match, with Janowicz making Murray wait at the very start before he deigned to come out onto the court, and then trying to rush through his service games like a cowboy firing a six-shooter.”
It was excellent theatre, but was second feature to the main event, the first semi-final between the world No.1 Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro, who will, it seems, be affectionately know from now on as “Del Boy”. Engel thought that the big Argentine put up such resistance that even the great Djokovic was left scratching his head over how to bring him down.
“Despite his height, Del Boy had only four aces all match, to his opponent’s 22. And the rallies went on and on. They were decided by errors as often as by outright winners, and Djokovic made his share. He seemed hard-put to understand why his normal strategy was not working. “Something wrong with our bloody ships today,” as Admiral Lord Jellicoe said at the Battle of Rutland. And that will give some hope to his opponent in the final.”
Christopher Clarey, in the International Herald Tribune, joins the standing ovation on Centre Court for the two players. He writes: “At four hours and 43 minutes, it was the longest semi-final in the history of Wimbledon, the oldest tournament in tennis, and yet it so rarely dragged; so rarely gave the crowd the slightest desire for resolution even if their own Andy Murray was being delayed from taking the court because of all this guts and brilliance on the full stretch.”
Lawton thinks that “Del Potro produced tennis that made his solitary Grand Slam title seem like the most miserly reward”. He says: “Some of his shots were diamonds cut from the highest skill and the hardest resolve and if this was a man in need of medical assistance – as he was early in the match – it was chilling to imagine him in this mood and utterly unflawed working order. Murray may well have decided that, relatively speaking, stepping into the shooting gallery in which the Pole was about to pass the mark of a 100 tournament aces was a much softer option.”
Giles Smith, in The Times, marvels at Del Potro’s powers of recovery and came up with a novel idea for curing some of the physical ailments. He writes: “During yesterday’s campaign he was still seeking additional help from qualified specialists. The doctor paid him a home visit as early as midway through the second set, and the trainer spent the changeover after the fifth game of the final set valiantly manipulating the No.8 seed’s left shoulder (A thought for next year: coin-operated massage chairs. They have them in airports – why not on the Centre Court?).
Smith does wonder, though, if Del Potro’s ambling gait does lead one to automatically assume he has some physical discomfort. He says: “That sense of exhaustion around Del Potro is partly a deception produced by his slightly shambling demeanour. Amiably slouching and permanently tired-looking, he moves, between points, like someone who has just got up after a heavy night on a friend’s sofa.”
Nick Bollettieri, the American coach in his column for The Independent, believes that ultimately it was Murray’s serve that triumphed rather than the Pole’s more feared one. “Like Djokovic’s victory, the foundation for this victory was laid by Murray’s serve,” he says. “When you are facing a guy sending those missiles down at you then you had goddamn better make sure your own serve is working well. Murray served well. His placement was immaculate. I reckon I could have laid a dime out there on the court and Murray would have hit it.”
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