Wimbledon: ‘This is a chance I don’t want to waste’ - Andy Murray
THE statue of Fred Perry stands outside Centre Court. There is the trace of a smile on his lips. It is as if he knows something is happening, or, perhaps, is about to happen.
During this fortnight each year, hundreds each day gather to have their photograph taken in front of Perry, winner at Wimbledon in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Andy Murray, however, studiously ignores him. This is part of the “bubble” strategy he explained to reporters on Wednesday night, after he had taken another step towards emulating Perry with a thrilling four sets victory over David Ferrer, one which has set up an Auld Alliance battle against the popular Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in today’s semi-final on Centre Court.
Does he even glance at the statue of Perry, where the legendary player has been frozen in time while in the process of executing a rather stylish forehand? “No, not really,” he said yesterday. “For me, when I think about Wimbledon and how long it has been since a British winner, it is obviously surprising, a bit shocking too.
“But I am very selfish when I think about Wimbledon,” he continued. “I really try to make sure that I want to do it for myself.” He has already revealed that he likes to take time out in the winter to sneak past Fred and up into Centre Court, where he takes a seat in an eerily quiet arena. He takes the opportunity to remind himself to never fail to give his all.
“When I sit out there on the court, I am thinking about the history and the matches that have been played there by myself,” he said.
“It’s so that I understand how important it is and so I know that when I come here I do not want to waste the chance by playing a stupid match or not acting right, or not preparing properly.”
Such slackness has not been a feature of his tournament so far. His tricky draw has brought out the best in Murray, whose meeting with Tsonga today is the reward for his consistent high-quality. It is also the hopefully happy consequence of Rafael Nadal’s shock second-round elimination at the hands of Lukas Rosol.
Nadal had been due to meet Murray at this stage, had they both managed to chart the course plotted for them by the seeding system.
Had it been a Nadal v Murray semi-final, the great British public would have been braced for disappointment. Tsonga remains a threat, but he is not Nadal. He has also beaten Murray only once in six attempts. The scene is of course set for a huge let-down, but Murray seems unfazed. He is in form and serving as well as he has ever done. He can also employ a two-handed back-hand which Tim Henman yesterday described as the best in the business, with the former British No 1 also identifying Tsonga’s own backhand as a weak link.
Murray agrees that he is feeling as good about his game as ever before. “You always feel like that deep into a tournament, unless you have had a five or six-hour marathon,” he said. “You need to have played some good tennis when you have reached the semis.
“This year has been one of my toughest draws, so I have had to play some of my best ever tennis to get here. At the Australian Open this year I did not have to play so well because the guys I played against were shattered, but this time has not been like that. It has been very tough. There have been tough matches against different types of players, as well. My game should be in a good place.”
His good form has taken him through to a semi-final appointment with Tsonga this afternoon, one scheduled for the ratings-winning second slot on Centre Court, following defending champion Novak Djokovic’s equally attractive clash with Roger Federer.
Murray will be bidding to make the great leap forward after three successive semi-final defeats at Wimbledon. Can he do it? “It’s our job to speculate, his job to go out and do it,” said Henman yesterday, clearly still relishing the fact that the burden of pressure and expectation has been transferred to someone else’s shoulders.
Getting to the final might be enough for many, but it isn’t for Murray, who displays the sort of hard-bitten winner’s mentality which some argued Henman lacked. “I am disappointed to lose before the final in any tournament,” the Scot said on Thursday. Murray pin-points eve-of-match conversations with coach Ivan Lendl as a new, improved feature of his preparations. Like Wayne Rooney, he has started to visualise how he wants to perform the following day.
Lendl might be an inscrutable presence behind his shades in the Murray box during matches, but he comes alive in the hours leading up to such encounters. “He’s very exact,” said Murray. “He doesn’t miss anything. He gives you a lot of information on players so we have started to talk the night before matches so I can process it, think about it the night beforehand.
“That’s really been the big difference. He is making sure I am focusing on the match the night before, so I can sleep on it and make sure I am prepared rather than not thinking about the match at all, and maybe starting off a little bit slowly.”
Murray has been defined by his coolness so far, negotiating five rounds with the loss of just three sets. Some, including Henman, also credit Lendl with Murray’s transformation from a player whose anguished wail was recently described rather memorably as a “desolate Culloden shriek”, to one who seems remarkably sure of himself, and who keeps his emotions in check. He has, though, intrigued on-lookers and frustrated journalists by signalling to the skies after each of his victories here.
Are you going to tell us about the gesture, he was asked yesterday. “I won’t, don’t worry, I won’t tell you.”
Murray is welcome to his secret. What we need him to do now is keep a promise.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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