The enormous roar that Andy Murray let out after finally seeing off Steve Johnson said everything about his edgy Olympic quarter-final.
The defending champion was well below his best in Rio but somehow found a way to scrape past his American opponent 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (2) to keep his shot at history alive, though his hopes of a mixed doubles medal with Heather Watson were later ended.
No man has ever won back-to-back Olympic titles but Murray is now guaranteed a shot at a medal after securing a semi-final berth.
He looked in supreme control in the first set as Johnson failed to settle and the Scot rattled it off without losing a game inside 25 minutes. But after that Murray’s backhand went to pot and Johnson’s forehand began to dictate. He took the second set with a single break of the Murray serve.
When an exquisite lob in the final set sealed another break, Murray was staring down the barrel of a shock. But the 29-year-old from Dunblane maintained his ten-match winning streak in the Olympics by breaking back and sealing the victory in a tiebreak.
“We didn’t get to hit balls before the match because of the rain,” said Murray. “He just started slow and came back into it, played very much better. These are quicker courts so I expected a tough one.
“It didn’t feel too slow to me. It was quite lively. It’s the wind that’s making it challenging. It’s very breezy out there. The courts are wide open.”
Murray is now guaranteed a shot at a medal, but gold will require him to see off Kei Nishikori in the semi-final, which takes place at 4pm today.
Even if he loses there is the consolation of a bronze medal match and Murray can’t get enough of the Rio atmosphere.
He added: “It’s been difficult in tough conditions, after great starts. I was close to going out. Some times that can work in your favour. But you want to play a little bit better, loosen up a little bit.
“It feels different. This is special. We don’t get this opportunity all of the time, competing for medals for your country, that’s special. For me, it’s got nothing to do with having won the gold medal in London. It’s just about trying to win more medals for your country and the team.”
Murray has now won 27 of his last 28 matches, a run of form that has coincided with a slip by his perennial rival Novak Djokovic, who went out in the first round here in Rio. And Murray is desperate to keep his run going.
“Yeah. It’s been good,” he said. Regarding the winning streak, before that as well, I played well in the French, and Rome and Madrid as well, on clay courts. It’s been a good few months, and I’ll try to continue.”
Mixed doubles defeat
Murray and Watson lost their mixed doubles quarter-final to Indian pair Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza.
The fourth seeds are both doubles specialists and it showed as they defeated the British pair 6-4, 6-4.
Murray, who won silver with Laura Robson in 2012, and Watson only found out they had made it into the competition 45 minutes before their opening match on Thursday when Romanians Florin Mergea and Monica Niculescu pulled out.
They were impressive in beating Spaniards David Ferrer and Carla Suarez Navarro but struggled against Bopanna and Mirza.
Rafael Nadal completed the first half of what would be a remarkable Rio 2016 double by clinching the men’s doubles title with Marc Lopez.
The Spaniards defeated Romanian pair Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 and both fell to the court in celebration after Mergea hit a final smash long.
It was a second Olympic gold medal for Nadal, the singles champion in Beijing, and capped a brilliant summer for Lopez, who won his first grand slam title at the French Open with Feliciano Lopez.
Meanwhile, Monica Puig will become the first female athlete from Puerto Rico to win an Olympic medal after beating Petra Kvitova 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 to reach the women’s singles final. The unseeded 22-year-old will now aim to make more history as her country’s first ever gold medallist.
Puig will take on either Germany’s Angelique Kerber or Madison Keys of the United States in tonight’s final.
l Aldi is the first official supermarket partner of Team GB and has been championing our nation’s extraordinary athletes on their Road to Rio and encouraging the public to tuck into fresh, affordable, Great British food. For more information visit aldi.co.uk