The loser’s press conference is a grim affair at Wimbledon, a few reporters drifting in to to ask the vanquished some questions that he doesn’t really have the stomach to answer, but has to try none the less. Mikhail Youzhny was that man last night.
Beaten and forlorn, but doing his best. Less than a dozen people turned up to hear him talk and most of them only wanted to hear him speak of the player he’d just lost to; a case of ‘Wham, Bam, can Andy win the slam?’
“How far do you think Andy can go?” he was asked.
“I don’t want to give a prognosis,” Youzhny replied.
“How good is Andy?”
“A top player. He didn’t give me any presents,” said the Russian.
“Do you think his performance today would be good enough to beat (Novak) Djokovic?”
“I think it’s a long story before Djokovic.”
And, of course, Youzhny is right. A long story indeed. So many of us think we know how this one is going to end, as if all that Murray has to do to make the final on Sunday is turn up on time for his next two matches, as if the shocks that befell Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer and Serena Williams don’t apply to Murray.
So many of his fans live in the dreamland of Sunday and a denouement with Djokovic, presuming that nobody would have the temerity to upset the narrative.
Lots of horror stories for the favourites at these championships already, though. Murray is not immune. He knows that only too well, living as he is in his bubble world far away from the hype and hoopla and the wholesale dismissal, outside of his own cocoon, of the men he will face on the road to Sunday.
“I don’t know (about the expectation) because I don’t read everything that’s getting said. You know, I’m not out and about on the street speaking to people about the tournament. I’m with the guys that I work with. We don’t ahead of ourselves because you can’t afford to do that. That’s why there’s been so many shocks here, because the level of tennis is high.
“There’s a lot of tough, tough opponents left in the draw and Mikhail was one of them. I mean, when someone like Serena loses... For her to lose at Wimbledon in the fourth round is surprising. When those sort of results can happen to a player as good as her then there’s absolutely no reason why it can’t happen to me. That’s why I’m not getting ahead of myself - and no-one else should.”
For Murray, it’s Fernando Verdasco next. Playing well, Verdasco. Hitting it like he means it. A left-hander. The first one Murray will have played all year. “You don’t fluke at getting into the quarter-final.”
He was asked a question last night that was somewhat loaded, a query about whether he would have, a week ago, settled for a quarter-final against the Spaniard, who is emerging from a giant slump but who is unseeded here.
Murray’s reaction was telling. He didn’t say anything for a while. Then he held his head in his hands in exasperation before singing the praises of Verdasco and stating, for any dreamers out there, that there are no guarantees in these parts, no byes to the business end of this championship.
This was not Murray’s best day, but when you falter your way through a straight sets win against a fine grass-court player like Youzhny then you can’t overdose on the downside. Sure, Murray got himself in mess after taking the first set 6-4. There were too many mistakes to presume anything in the coming days, but enough character and class to still make you believe in the dream.
“There were some very tense moments, especially in the second set,” he said.
That set was a rollercoaster.
He lost his serve once when planting a lame forehand into the net and lost it again in his next service game with a double fault.
He went 5-2 down and yet wrestled Youzhny into a tie-break, the crowd on Centre Court coming alive in these anxious moments where before they had been as muted we have seen in Murray’s company this past week.
It was as if a light-bulb had come on above their heads, a realisation that ‘Hey, he’s not home-free here, he still needs our noise’.
That set revealed some of the worst and some of the best of Murray.
The worst he can work on; the weak second serve, the unforced errors, but the best was mightily impressive.
Having come from the brink in the set he then fell behind 4-2 in the tie-break – another double fault – and then 5-3, but still found the nerve and the touch on the big points.
A drop-shot so audacious and judged to the nearest millimetre got him back into; a sweeping cross-court winner finished~ the job.
He skipped to his seat two sets to the good, his opponent letting out a roar of frustration.
Youzhny had one more chance at the start of the third but couldn’t capitalise on break point. From there, he was routed 6-1.
There was a moment, at the height of that troublesome second set, when Murray turned his back on Youzhny and started to blow.
He blew quite a bit. Force of habit or a sign of darker truths? Whatever. He played it all down in the aftermath. He called for the towel and rubbed down his face, then blew again.
He grimaced slightly and reached for his hip, the one that has given him such problems. He was serving to stop a mini Russian revival turning into a full-blown Russian revolution and he got through it. The determination of a champion, if not the sustained excellence. He says there is no problem with his hip or his back or anything else. Everybody wants to believe that’s true.
Everybody wants to believe, full stop.