THIS time, Andy Murray did not have things all his own way. This time, compared to his previous three matches, the No 2 seed had to dig deeper into his considerable resources. This time, there was a wobble.
But it only lasted for four games, and then for a few points in a tiebreak, on both occasions in the second set. With that blip out of the way, normal service was resumed, and the Scot rounded off a 6-4, 7-6, 6-1 victory over Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny that has taken him into the quarter-finals at Wimbledon for the sixth successive year.
There was another big shock at the tournament yesterday – No 1 seed Serena Williams was knocked out of the women’s tournament by Sabine Lisicki of Germany. And the only other Briton left in the singles lost too, as Laura Robson went down in straight sets to Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. But in the men’s singles, there was nothing to compare with the upsets last week that saw former champions Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer make early exits along with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. No 1 seed Novak Djokovic followed Murray on to Centre Court yesterday and then into the last eight with a straight-sets win over Tommy Haas of Germany. No 4 seed David Ferrer, No 7 Tomas Berdych and No 8 Juan Martin del Potro also progressed.
Murray looked imperious at times against Youzhny, and was soon on top of the No 20 seed in the first set. He broke the Russian’s serve early on in the second set to press home that advantage, but from 2-1 he lost four games in a row. From there, however, he stopped the rot in time, getting it back to 5-5.
Two games later Murray had a tiebreak on his hands for the first time this tournament. He was 5-3 behind in it at one stage, but from there took four points in a row.
Youzhny’s resistance was token after that. He only began the third set after a medical time-out, and appeared to lose heart after failing to convert a break point in the opening game. When Murray broke in the next game, it was only a matter of time before he had taken the third set as well, to wrap up his fourth consecutive straight-sets victory.
With that place in the last eight secured, the only real concern for the Scot’s supporters was the state of his back – he withdrew from this year’s French Open as a precautionary measure because of a strain.
There were a couple of times during the Youzhny match when he clutched his side and seemed to wince, but later he explained that while he had received more treatment than usual after the match, he said there was nothing to worry about.
“I had probably about 20 minutes longer treatment than I had done the last few days,” he said at his press conference, which took place the best part of two hours after he had left Centre Court. “I’d love to be able to come in here ten minutes after my match – it’s easier for you guys. But I need to make sure I do all the right things, like ice bathing, having my massage, and taking care of my body. Obviously, a few weeks ago I missed the French Open.
“I don’t want it to be a case of things creeping back up on me. I want to take care of my body. It’s my main priority this tournament. There’s no cause for concern. My back’s felt way, way better than it was a few weeks ago. I mean, there’s a few times on the court where you feel things.
“You just have to find a way of managing those issues and getting through them, because a lot of guys have had problems, during this slam especially. A lot of guys have had trainers on court. Everyone’s got little niggles and stuff. You just have to manage them and get through it.”
In any case, even if one of those little niggles were to become a big niggle. Murray insisted he would do everything in his power to prevent it from affecting him. Asked how much pain it would take to put him out of the tournament, he replied in defiant style.
“I wouldn’t stop,” he said. “Now that I’m playing, there’s no chance I would stop. I mean, unless I couldn’t hold the racket.”
In tomorrow’s quarter-finals Murray will play the unseeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, who beat him in the fourth round of the Australian Open four years ago but, more recently, has slipped down the rankings. Verdasco was a straight-sets winner yesterday over Kenny de Scheeper of France.
The other quarter-final in Murray’s half of the draw will be an all-Polish affair between Lukasz Kubot and No 24 seed Jerzy Janowicz, who yesterday beat Austria’s Jurgen Melzer in five sets.
When the draw was made, Murray faced the prospect of a quarter-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga followed by a semi against either Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. Since all three bit the dust last week his path has been made easier, but not cleared entirely.
Youzhny was Murray’s most difficult opponent by some way, but the home favourite’s low point in this match was largely self-inflicted. Provided he does not suffer a longer slump tomorrow, he may find Verdasco less of a challenge than the Russian was.