Two years ago Sam Querrey went on a TV dating show looking for love but got his tactics all wrong. He hoped to hook up with an outdoorsy girl fond of hiking who liked wearing stilettoes and unsurprisingly went home disappointed.
But yesterday at Wimbledon the big, blond American with the bashful gee-whizz smile proved there was nothing wrong with his game management on the tennis court, ending Andy Murray’s dream in a manner that by the end was cruel to watch.
Sensing that Murray’s injury, illness and poor form-blighted season was finally catching up with him, Querrey sent the champion scampering all over the court. The scampering soon turned to hirpling, then the hirpling was reduced to standing stock-still, racket planted in the ground like a walking stick, the Scot bent over it.
Again and again, the play followed this sad sequence: unable to generate any real power, Murray would try to drop-shot Querrey. The No 28 seed was full of beans by then and would reach it. Murray’s would then summon up a lob but Querrey – 6ft 6in, for goodness sake – would delight in smashing a winner.
Murray had actually started brightly, almost running into position for the first game and temporarily making the Centre Court forget about My Left Hip, the main feature running continuously throughout the tournament, with the niggly problem requiring updates every hour.
He was a set and a break up in no time. Then he was two sets to one ahead. But he lost 12 of the last 13 games and would eventually succumb 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, 6-1. Querrey was only doing what any competitor should when spotting a flaw or a problem in an opponent’s play. The crowd tried their best to rouse their man but it was no use.
Suddenly the US, once so dominant in men’s tennis but reduced to feebleness in recent years, had a guy one match away from a Grand Slam final.
Querrey had been a big hit on Centre Court before without having played a single shot. In last year’s third round when Murray was playing John Millman there, the scoreboard flashed up that the San Franciscan had beaten Novak Djokovic and the crowd, who’d seen the then-invincible Serb as the greatest obstacle, gasped then cheered. It was like one of those “Where were you when … ?” moments on General Election night when a big beast of politics is vanquished.
Would Querrey pose Murray queries? Would he make the champ querulous? His actual first hits on the show-court made zero impression. A service game to love for Murray then a break for the champ, who was bouncing around appealingly between points. Where was the limp? But Querrey settled down and started to get some games on the board.
This regular Gigantor’s serve was clocking 130mph and his forehand was proving a decent weapon. Maybe older tennis fans would have been reminded of Roscoe Tanner, a resident of Lookout Mountain, Tennessee – Querrey having been educated at the just as charmingly named Thousand Oaks High School in San Fran. But Murray was targeting his weaker backhand to good effect.
Thus far it was a match of few rallies with Murray in control. Then we got one – a cracker – with Querrey winning it on his backhand of all things. But Murray was serving for the first set. He wound up on the baseline and at the crucial moment, seemingly from the direction of the Royal Box, there came the encouraging cry: “C’mon the Hibee!” First blow to the one-time Easter Road ballboy.
By the second set Querrey’s serve was very much in the groove. It was now less obvious how Murray was going to dampen down this piledriver. But he was untroubled on his own serve and produced a terrific drop-shot with so much spin it skewed wonkily as soon as it touched the grass. Then he did break Querrey, chancing a lob that cleared the giant steeple.
But, having gained the advantage, Murray immediately lost his service. It was the first time Querrey had been remotely close to threatening and after another drop-shot failed, Murray hammered his racket against a shoe.
There was worse to come. Serving to stay in the set, his volleys went awry. After every one he glanced – or glowered – at his box. Two errors were particularly unforced. He managed to save one of Querrey’s set points but not the second, the American slugging home with his backhand.
Was Murray going to “Hibs it”? He had a word with himself under his umbrella and immediately broke Querrey’s serve, drop-shotting him from an impossible angle. He still wasn’t functioning on full power, though. Drives which last year would have struck the back wall before his opponent had time to move were stopping short, allowing Querrey’s confidence to swell.
Serving for the set Murray had problems with his ball-toss and Querrey seized his chance. Murray was giving the impression he was wading through treacle – when he was moving at all. The set went to a tie-break where Murray, even if he couldn’t thunder around in time-honoured fashion, held the psychological advantage. Querrey under pressure couldn’t pinpoint his first serve and, worse, missed an easy smash. Murray was leading again, the boxing fan proving yet again what a fantastic scrapper he is. But this was as good as it got for him.
Third game, fourth set, Murray lost his serve, two crosscourt forehands from Querrey doing the damage. Blowing the first point on serve immediately sparked jitters; meanwhile Querrey could do no wrong on his, booming 27 aces. Murray was virtually static now. For him, the match was like trying to climb a mountain in high heels. He fired a forehand down the line but there was a critical lack of welly to it and Querrey performed a neat pick-up on the run to make the match all-square.
The crowd tried again to lift Murray. “Come on, Andy, let’s go,” they chanted, but it was no use. Querrey was serving to love, Murray was getting himself in an almighty fankle every time it was his turn. After 2 hours and 42 minutes, a rally at grim end was wretched to watch, and must have been even more painful for Murray. He very nearly won it, and in his desperate pounding of the turf there were glimmers of the superhuman qualities of retrieval which won him the title. But this time he couldn’t turn barley water into wine.