YOU could only imagine the scenes at the Tappit Hen, one of Dunblane’s pubs of choice for the television cameras when Andy Murray makes a grand slam final.
There they were, their boy two sets down to Fernando Verdasco, world No 54 but serving like God, a no-mark in these major championships for four long years but suddenly transformed into the kind of player that Murray warned us about; a demonically powerful hitter, a man back on form, a bloke not to be taken lightly.
In those moments, all the landmark places in Murray’s hometown that journalists like to fetch-up at on grand slam Sunday would have been resigned to a quiet day’s business. Everybody was resigned. Centre Court, without question, had that murmuring quality, the hushed chatter of people abandoning hope. Murray was just about the coolest guy in the place through all of this. From nowhere, he found his best stuff, slowly turned the screw on Verdasco, bit by bit chipped at his confidence and finally brought him down in five sets, the matador beaten by the bull.
This was the kind of day that develops the bond between Murray and Wimbledon. There is nothing like a visit to the cliff-edge to bring a player and his people closer together and, Lord, how the crowd roared him on. “They made a huge, huge difference,” said Murray. To see them staggering out of Centre Court last night was to know the power of Murray’s influence. They were giddy in the knowledge they had seen something special, had seen what the great ones are capable of when in the deepest trouble. Only the elite can do what Murray did here.
How did he get into such an horrendous spot in the first place? Partly the quality of Verdasco, partly the tentativeness of his own error-strewn game in the opening two sets, particularly his second serve, which was a developing catastrophe in the opening stages, only 38 per cent of the points on his second serve being won in the first set and only 25 per cent won in the second set. This is a recurring theme with Murray now.
The difference in the service department was stark. Murray singled out Verdasco’s serve as the biggest source of his problems. Not just the power of it – his second serve averaged 106mph over the course of the entire match which was only nine miles an hour slower than Murray’s first serve.
“A lot of them were very close to the line on big points,” said Murray. “When he was break-points down on second serve he wasn’t slowing it down or going for the middle of the box. He was going at the lines and came up with some huge serves on big moments throughout the match.”
Murray hadn’t lost a set in these championships, but Verdasco quickly put that straight. He broke on 5-4 courtesy of a Murray double-fault. It was an upset, but it soon became a crisis. Murray’s game completely abandoned him in the second set. From a break up and a 3-1 lead he started to gift points to the Spaniard in the most alarming way.
A basic error at the net and a ballooned forehand over the baseline saw him lose his serve for the first time in the set, then he lost it again, awful unforced errors doing for him. When Verdasco was pushed in his own service games he had the power to get out of danger. His phenomenal hitting put him two sets clear and, to all the world, it looked like Murray was doomed.
“You’re obviously concerned,” he said, in his deadpan way. “But you’ve been in that position a lot of times and you know how to think through it and get too far ahead of yourself. I definitely didn’t rush. I slowed myself down, if anything. That was a good sign. The more times you’re in those positions the more times you can come back. You understand the way you need to think and the way you need to negotiate your way through. You know, sometimes it can be easy to get back to two sets all. The fifth set, often the guy who won the first two comes back and wins that one. It’s normally the toughest of the three to win.”
Nobody would have bet a bob on it going that far as the Murray nightmare was unfolding. “The second set was a bad set of tennis for me,” he said. “I was 3-1 up and then made some bad mistakes, some poor choices on the court. I thought about what I was doing wrong. I gave away too many free points and then changed tactics a little bit. Was more patient. Didn’t rush.”
The first signs of a Verdasco wobble came in that third set. He planted a volley into the net where before he would have put it away for a winner and that cost him a break. Murray broke again and closed out the set 6-1 in just 31 minutes. Suddenly, Centre Court was energised and Verdasco looked vulnerable, not the kind of vulnerability that a player with his woeful track record over the last number of years ought to be displaying, but slightly anxious all the same.
Pivotal moments came thick and fast. Verdasco had two break points on the Murray serve early in the fourth set and Murray repelled him both times. A game-changer. For when the Scot had a similar opportunity in the very next game, he took advantage – and took the set 6-4.
We were into the realms of an epic by that point. Verdasco blinked first. We talk about turning points and here was another, a 20-point rally that set up a break-point which Murray grasped to go 6-5 with his serve to come. He finished it with an ease that belied the great struggle that went before, a game to love and an escape to remember.
Next up for the great escapologist: Jerzy Janowicz, a giant Pole with a cannonball serve and a youthful exuberance that will take some stopping. Janowicz has nothing to lose. Danger lurks around every corner on the road to Wimbledon greatness.