JOHN McEnroe has never been one to mince his words and he was characteristically blunt yesterday when asked about Andy Murray’s prospects of winning Wimbledon this year.
The former champion had already said the Scot had a good chance of going all the way in the tournament, and was hardly going to back down now that the elimination of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has eased Murray’s path.
McEnroe said: “What’s amazing is that, before the tournament, I thought there was less pressure on Andy than there had ever been coming into the event,” McEnroe said yesterday. “But, with all due respect to these players in Murray’s half of the draw now, they’re not exactly household names. If he doesn’t get to the final, this is going to be an absolute catastrophe.”
Certainly, the loss of those three big names from Murray’s half of the draw has made his potential route to the final appear a lot less formidable. But, as he prepares for today’s third-round match against Tommy Robredo, Murray is feeling wary. He knows that, in this championship of upsets, someone good enough to beat Federer, Nadal or Tsonga has to be a danger in subsequent rounds as well.
“[Steve] Darcis beat Rafa, Roger has just lost to [Sergiy] Stakhovsky, Tsonga lost to [Ernests] Gulbis,” he reasoned. “Who’s to say I can’t lose to Robredo in the next round? These things happen all the time in sport.
I just think [because of] the consistency of the top players for the last eight, ten years, people are so shocked.
“I think that this used to happen a lot more previously but I don’t worry about those things.
“I know if I don’t play well on Friday, I’ll lose. That’s why I’ll be ready for that match and not worry about anything else.
“These sorts of upsets happened a lot more ten, 15 years ago, but since I came on the tour, Rafa and Roger have always been in the latter stages of slams. Obviously Novak [Djokovic] the last few years, and I’ve played consistently well in the slams too the last few years, but it will be the first time in a long time that Rafa and Roger haven’t been in the third round of a slam.”
Nadal and Federer were seeded to meet in the last eight, with the winner expected to meet Murray in the semi-final, if the No 2 seed got past Tsonga. It was during the latter stages of Murray’s straight-sets win over Yen-hsun Lu that Tsonga’s defeat by Gulbis came up on the giant scoreboard, provoking a murmur of excitement from the crowd on Court No 1.
But Murray himself refused to get excited, or to think about what that and Wednesday’s other shock defeats might mean for him. “My next match isn’t against him. My next match was against the winner of Tommy and [Nicolas] Mahut.
“Mahut’s obviously been playing some really good grasscourt tennis the last few weeks, so that’s a little bit of a surprise. I don’t think Tsonga-Gulbis was a gimme match anyway. It was a tough match. Gulbis is a tough, tough player, with a lot of talent. Yeah, a bit of a surprise but not a major shock.”
The main debate around Wimbledon yesterday centred on Federer and whether we have seen the last of the great Swiss player, at least as a genuine contender at Grand Slams.
Murray, for one, is not ready to write him off, and credited Stakhovsky with some excellent tactical play against the former champion in Wednesday evening’s second-round match.
“Roger still played some top quality tennis this year – maybe not as consistent as he had been for the last ten years, but you can’t keep that up forever. The levels of consistency and domination, we probably won’t see that again.
“We’ll have to wait and see how he responds, but he’s one of the greatest athletes ever, and I would expect him to respond very well to this loss. He definitely will be a danger at the US Open. I was watching the match. Stakhovsky was playing unbelievably well. He was serve-volleying beautifully. It looked great the way he was playing.
“You always expect someone like Roger to turn the match around, but when you get into tie-breaks. I didn’t see any of that but a couple of good points, a little bit of bad luck and the match is done. It’s obviously a surprise. Roger’s been in the quarter-finals of every slam nearly 40 times in a row or something.”
It was actually 36 consecutive times that Federer had reached the last eight at least of a Grand Slam, so it was perhaps little wonder that some people rushed to declare that his exit marked the end of an era.
If it is, could there be a short period in which no-one is dominant, like the interregnum of 2001 and 2002 when Pete Sampras was deposed and Federer had yet to emerge? Goran Ivanisevic and Lleyton Hewitt, respectively, were the champions in those years, beating Pat Rafter and David Nalbandian.
But, asked if he thought this year could be similar to that period, Murray again urged caution. “For me that was a long time ago. I don’t really remember much about that.
“Look, things happen in sport. People [wanted] to write Rafa off after Wimbledon last year with his injury, and he came back and made nine finals in a row.
“Roger and Rafa will be back competing for Grand Slams in the future, I think.
“It was just a couple of very good performances from Darcis and Stakhovsky, with maybe Rafa and Roger not quite being at their best. You can lose when that happens.”
Murray knows he can lose today if he is not at his best. But so far, he has hardly faltered.
The same standard this afternoon should see him safely through in three close sets, and move closer to avoiding that potential catastrophe of which McEnroe spoke.
MURRAY’S MUCH-CHANGED PATH
HOW Andy Murray’s potential route to the final has altered dramatically since the draw was made last Friday.
Expected: James Ward (lost first round)
Actual: Yen-Sun Lu, who Murray comfortably beat 6-3, 6-3, 7-5
Expected: Tommy Robredo
The 31-year-old, the No 32 seed, has made it through as expected.
Expected: Janko Tipsarevic (lost first round)
Now expects: Mikhail Youzhny The No 20 seeded Russian plays Serbia’s Viktor Troicki in today’s third round.
Expected: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (retired during first round match against Ernests Gulbis)
Now expects: Juan Monaco
The Argentine 22nd seed meets Kenny de Schepper of France today.
Expected: Rafael Nadal
(lost first round)
Now expects: Nicolas Almagro At No 15, the 27-year-old from Murcia is the highest remaining seed apart from No 2 Murray in the Scot’s half of the draw.
Expects: Novak Djokovic
The top seed and 2011 champion remains the hot favourite to meet Murray in the showdown on Sunday week.