REMEMBER when the draw was made and we plotted Andy Murray’s probable path to the final? It was only last Friday, but already feels so long ago, because so much has changed.
By this stage of the tournament – two rounds down and five to go – the route map was supposed to look like this: Nicolas Mahut, Janko Tipsarevic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, then finally Novak Djokovic. This morning, only Djokovic remains as a possible opponent for the Scot. Tipsarevic and Nadal went out in the first round, the former losing to Victor Troicki, who is still in, the latter to Steve Darcis, who was one of yesterday’s injury withdrawals. Mahut lost yesterday to Tommy Robredo, who will now meet Murray tomorrow after the No 2 seed’s no-nonsense, 6-3, 6-3, 7-5 win over Yen-hsun Lu.
Tsonga retired hurt from his match against Ernests Gulbis while Murray was still on No 1 Court. And then, the last act of an incredible day at Wimbledon: Federer lost to Sergiy Stakhovsky – a result which brought to an end a run of 36 grand slams in which the multiple champion had reached the quarter-final at least. That bottom half of the draw has been blasted wide open, with the highest remaining seed apart from Murray himself the No 15, Nicolas Almagro. The notion that Djokovic will have by far the easier route to the final no longer holds so much water.
On such a day, with so many upsets, Murray made no slip-ups whatsoever. Prone to the odd painful slip earlier in his career, last year’s beaten finalist looked particularly surefooted yesterday, both physically and metaphorically.
Lu, the 29-year-old from Taipei who defeated the world No 2 at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, had no answer to his opponent’s accuracy and power.
He credits his athleticism and agility to a childhood spent chasing chickens around his father’s farm, but it was not long yesterday before Murray had him chasing shadows. After failing to take a single point from Murray’s first two service games, the older man did succeed in putting a few good rallies together in the fifth game, and held three break points in total. In each case, however, Murray upped his game, serving especially well to get out of danger.
Having put in so much effort to that game, Lu let his standards slip in the next and paid the penalty, being broken easily. From 4-2, Murray stretched his lead to 5-2, and although Lu saved two set points in the eighth game he could do nothing in the ninth. First set 6-3 to Murray in just over half an hour.
The 26-year-old forced home his advantage in the early stages of the second set, breaking Lu in the first game. The Taiwanese man had to scuttle around frantically just to stay in each rally, as Murray sent him running from side to side, almost toying with him. With that lead established, Murray made a smooth progress through the rest of the set. Lu saved two break points with some good serve-and-volley play in the fifth game, but could do nothing thereafter to fight back into the match. Second set also 6-3 to Murray, and the end was in sight.
Not too long ago, Murray was prone to lapses of concentration which would allow his opponents a set. These days, he hardly loses his grip for a game. As the end approached, Tim Henman, commentating on the BBC, put it rather well: “I would have got a couple of hours more out of this,” he joked.
All the same, the third set was a far tighter contest than the first two. After a routine run of games, Lu had to fight hard not to be broken in the sixth, saving three break points to make it 3-3.
Serving at 5-4 down, he saved a match point, but two games later he was unable to do anything about it when Murray again stepped up a gear. “I think it went pretty well,” he said later. “He started off pretty good, and then I think he had a few breakpoints, all maybe in the first set. The third set was high quality. So I did well to finish it in three.”
Murray had been aware of the injuries and withdrawals, but appeared unfazed by them both during his match and afterwards. “Sometimes it’s coincidence,” he said when asked to explain them all. “Sometimes it can be footwear.
“Sometimes, yeah, a bit of bad luck. Sometimes it can be court surface. But I have no idea. I haven’t seen all of the injuries that people have had. So I’m not sure. I think when a lot of players get injured, the one thing is you may be a little tentative yourself at the beginning of the matches – maybe not that comfortable, you know, throwing yourself around the court. But after the first few games, that normally goes away.”
It was a sensational day, the single most eventful nine-hour spell that many of us could remember taking place here. Yet no matter how excited the rest of us were getting, Murray stayed resolutely unmoved throughout it all. The draw looks like it is opening up for him, but he knows that if someone can beat Federer or Tsonga, they can also beat him if he is not at his best.
“Everybody was so obsessed with how the draw was before the tournament started,” he said. “Now everybody wants to change their views on it because a few guys have lost.
“There’s top players still left in the tournament, and there’s a lot of young guys as well coming through – guys like Gulbis, [Jerzy] Janowicz. Those sort of players are starting to break through and play more consistently. I’ll just concentrate on my next match. I’m playing a tough player, a very experienced guy” – Robredo, the No 32 seed, is 31.
“Upsets happen every single day. You can’t take any matches for granted. You need to be ready for every match. That’s just the way that sport is.”