Wimbledon: Rafael Nadal’s defeat heaps more pressure on Andy Murray
FEW can deny that at just after 10pm on Thursday night, this year’s Wimbledon came alive. Until then, the tournament had proceeded in a straightforward enough manner, happily so, since it meant Andy Murray, the No 4 seed, remained on course to claim the greatest prize.
This is still the case. It’s just that, owing to the departure of a certain Spaniard, the Scot must today cope with an even greater weight of pressure, hard though it is to imagine such a thing is even possible having been exposed to another week of middle England-generated hype. The seismic reaction to No 2 seed Nadal’s defeat to Lukas Rosol made all Wimbledon shake. The dynamic of the tournament has also shifted, tilting it in favour of a Scot included in Nadal’s half of the draw. Now Murray, who plays old foe Marcos Baghdatis on Centre Court today, is not just expected to reach the final, he is seeded to make it there on 8 July. Suddenly, the draw is found to have been kind to him.
In light of this, what has to be acknowledged, and contributing enormously to the aforementioned burden of expectation, is that anything less than a first British finalist in the men’s singles competition since Bunny Austin in 1938 has to be regarded as a disappointment.
Miles Macglagan, his former coach and fellow Scot, alluded to this yesterday, clearly speaking in his current role as coach to Baghdatis, the Greek with a winning smile and a knowledge of what it takes to deflate the hopes of a Centre Court crowd. He defeated Murray in straight sets here in the fourth round in 2006.
More recently, and with Macglagan looking on as Baghdatis’ newly-recruited coach, Murray has managed to twice beat his Greek opponent, to make it level on 3-3 in head-to-head meetings between the pair. “I don’t know if that means anything. We’ve played twice since Miles started coaching him and I managed to win both times,” smiled Murray yesterday. “So I don’t know how much of a factor that will be.”
Macglagan, too, doubted the extent to which he could influence matters, although he did concede that he “knows how he [Murray] react to certain things, and things that make him less comfortable”. Such knowledge will have been imparted to Baghdatis, who, Macglagan added, “has been playing well, got through a few rounds, but anything that has gone before is irrelevant now”.
“He has all the shots, it is up to him,” continued Macglagan, with reference to Baghdatis. “He often rises to the occasion. He plays better on the bigger courts.”
So that’s one opponent analysed, what about the other, perhaps most dangerous threat to Murray’s hopes of reaching the second week? Someone otherwise known as himself. How will he react to the gathering intensity? Macglagan, whose association with Murray ended cordially enough in July 2010, knows as well as anyone that there are numerous obstacles standing in the way of a Scottish success at Wimbledon.
The elimination of Nadal a couple of nights ago has disposed of only one of them. “Andy’s biggest worry is focusing on himself,” said Macglagan, helpfully ensuring that this particular demon remains lodged in his old employer’s head. “With Nadal out, there is added pressure on him. Casual tennis observers forget that there are more than four tennis players in the game.
“Having been alongside him I know what the pressures are on Andy,” added Macglagan. “Everyone is focused upon him but he handles it well. I know from having been there there is this massive expectation on him to win. The questions keep coming about when he is going to win a Slam. With Nadal out, there will be a lot of the public who think he is just going to cruise to the final, which, of course, is just not the case, regardless of what happens tomorrow.”
Murray, meanwhile, has understandably referred people to the enduring truth of sport, which is that anything and everything can happen. Nothing is guaranteed. If it was, then Ladbrokes would not be in business, never mind being around to brand Nadal’s loss to Rosol as the greatest sports betting upset of all time, as they did yesterday.
The futility of trying to plot out an individual’s route to the final has been highlighted this week. At the beginning of it, there was much talk of how Murray would have to do battle with a series of big-hitters should the tournament progress as expected. This is still likely, though it isn’t the same cast-list of big-hitters initially imagined.
Milos Raonic and Kevin Anderson were supposed to have stood in his way, but then Grigor Dmitrov and Sam Querrey had clearly not read that particular script, both emerging victorious from their respective battles. The game-plan of Querrey, a 6ft 6in native of San Francisco, is hardly going to revolve around gentle drop shots, and he could still meet Murray in the fourth round, as could Marin Cilic, another 6ft 6in battering ram of an opponent. And, of course, either might be Baghdatis’ problem, as might Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is currently on course to meet either Murray or Baghdatis or indeed someone else in the semi-final. Unsurprisingly, as a professional sportsman who has been around the block a few times, Murray is wise to all of this. “It’s one of those things that is completely irrelevant to me unless I reach the semi-finals,” he said yesterday, when asked about Nadal’s surprise exit. “I’ve got a guy [Baghdatis] who has been in a Grand Slam final in my next match so that’s really the focus for me,” he added. “The draw has opened up for someone like Phillip Kohlschreiber, who was supposed to play Nadal in the next round, but not me. I have got a tough opponent in Bagdahtis and you never know, maybe he could put in a performance like Rosol.”
Had somebody predicted a top-four seed being eliminated in the second round by a big-hitting Eastern European, most would have imagined the victim to be Murray, whose path to the third round was blocked by Ivo Karlovic’s giant frame. Rather, we had Nadal taking his leave at the earliest stage of a Grand Slam tournament since 2005. Those who witnessed the historic final games, which were controversially played-out beneath the Centre Court roof, were privileged to be witness to such intense drama. Some mentioned the occasion in the same breath as Goran Ivanisevic’s feel-good triumph over Patrick Rafter in the final of 2001, when circumstances collided to turn Centre Court into a heaving mass of high-spirited, casually-dressed skivers, who had felt no compunctions about taking a ‘People’s Monday’ off work. Yes, it felt that momentous.
A personal favourite moment from the tournament so far this year is when Rosol, on the verge of one of the great shocks in recent tennis history, paused to look up to where he thought the sky would be in the search for inspiration. Instead, all he saw was a number of steel trusses supporting a partly transluscent roof.
Neverthless, the heavens had clearly not forsaken him, as he whacked down an ace to take the match. Murray’s fate lies no further away than between his own ears. It remains hinged to whether he can overcome the mental strain of knowing he must win four more matches to achieve what many now consider is the minimum objective.
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