REMEMBER when every Andy Murray match felt as emotionally draining as that one? When, whether he won or lost, the result was never straightforward or predictable?
• Andy Murray beats Fernando Verdasco 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 to reach semi-finals
• Murray had been two sets down to Spaniard before battling back to win
Perhaps we wanted to forget those matches, because they were just so exhausting. And certainly this Wimbledon has given us a chance to forget them, as Murray went through the first rounds without even dropping a set.
But they were back with a vengeance yesterday, as Fernando Verdasco, the world No 54, took the Scot the distance.
The man from Madrid won the first two sets, and kept battling away, and playing tennis of remarkable quality, all the way through to the end. And this was no simple case of a momentum switch, because, less than ten minutes from the end of this three-and-a-half-hour contest, Murray was serving to stay in the match. Verdasco was that close: just four points from victory.
But Murray held his serve, and his nerve, and then the win was his: a 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 win that takes him through to a semi-final tomorrow against No 24 seed Jerzy Janowicz, who beat his fellow-Pole Lukasz Kubot in straight sets. In the other semi-final top seed Novak Djokovic, who saw off the challenge of Tomas Berdych, will meet Juan Martin del Potro, who beat David Ferrer.
“Unbelievable atmosphere,” Murray said at the end of the match, which was watched from the Royal Box by Sir Alex Ferguson. “He served unbelievably well, specially when he was behind in games – he kept going for it. I just managed to turn it round.”
Verdasco, the left-hander from Madrid, has been as high as No 7 in the world. And if he can play with any regularity as well as he did here, he should quickly be heading back towards the top ten.
This was just the second time, following on from 2010, that Murray had got this far without dropping a set. And to be honest, there were many of us who had expected him to keep up that record on his way into the semi-finals.
It soon became apparent that such expectation was misplaced, as Verdasco took the first set. When he took the second too, we were looking at a very different type of match.
Murray was 3-1 up in that set, at which point a voice from the crowd shouted “Come on, Andy, he’s nothing”. But the Scot had warned before the match that Verdasco was far from being “nothing”, labelling his opponent “extremely dangerous”. In any case, even if that description had only been bluff, and in reality Murray had thought he would stroll into the semi-final, he knew better by this stage of the contest.
He had come back from two sets down before here, in an inspired recovery against Richard Gasquet, when the Frenchman’s nerve crumbled under the Scot’s onslaught. But the 29-year-old Spaniard is made of tougher stuff than Gasquet, and at that point it also looked like he was made of tougher stuff than Murray, who gave vocal expression to his exasperation at the change of ends before the third set began.
“What are you f***ing doing?” he shouted at himself, prompting an instant apology from the BBC commentary team. The answer to that question was: not playing at his best, while up against an opponent who was excelling himself.
Yet steadily, Murray’s quality came seeping back. An early break was exactly what he needed to take control of the third set, and although he had to survive break points in the fourth, he prevailed in that set too. With Verdasco serving first in the decider, Murray had the pressure of being behind each time he served – until, that is, the 11th game, when he seized his chance.
“It was a tough situation,” Murray said later about the match as a whole. “The second set was a bad set of tennis for me – I was 3-1 up and then made some bad mistakes, poor choices on the court. Then I turned it round really well after that.
“I thought about what I was doing wrong and the best way to get myself back into the match. Changed tactics a little bit. Was more patient.”
As defeat loomed for Murray, more and more talk around the grounds was of the so-called Curse of Cameron, the fact that other people who have been wished good luck by the Prime Minister have gone on to lose. Asked if he had been aware of that, and treated such superstition seriously, he replied dismissively.
“What he tweets has absolutely zero bearing on the outcome of my match today – zero at all,” he said.
“It’s nice to get messages from the Prime Minister, but whether I win or not, his tweet has no bearing on that at all.”