Murray eventually overcame Andreas Seppi in four sets, 6-2, 6-2, 1-6, 6-1, but both men benefited from medical pick me-ups at different stages of a match. Murray’s own powers of recovery must be celebrated, since he picked himself up off the floor and plugged back into the kind of form that helped him sail serenely through the first two rounds.
It had felt like the bad old days to see Murray lay splayed out on the turf as trainer Clay Sniteman worked on his back and shoulder after things had begun to unstitch for the Scot out on the court. At one point he lost six consecutive games – five of them coming after Seppi’s own break for treatment.
This was a tale of two injury time-outs. The first led to Seppi’s invigoration. Or more accurately, it seemed to signal Murray’s sudden decline. His momentum was clearly affected as he sat and waited for the Italian to have his shin prodded and poked by Sniteman, who earned his corn last night.
On the resumption Seppi broke Murray for the first time in the match and cantered to victory in a third set that saw the Scot begin to clutch his shoulder, in that once familiar way. He later assured reporters that this injury now felt fine. Considering who now lies in wait in the fourth round, this is heartening news.
The 36-year-old Croatian Ivo Karlovic yesterday became the oldest player to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon since Niki Pilic in 1976. Karlovic’s chief weapon remains a serve that belies his advancing years. He fired 41 aces past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a victory in four sets.
Seppi’s seemingly gloomy forecasts about his own chances of causing an upset were borne out. He started out meekly, broken in the first game of a contest Murray seemed determined to get out of the way as quickly as possible. The players had been forced to wait longer than anticipated in the men’s locker room.
A thrilling three-setter between Jelena Jankovic and Petra Kvitova, which saw the reigning champion ousted, meant it was after 6pm before Murray and his opponent emerged for what was billed as the Centre Court’s main dish of the day.
Indeed, when play did eventually start, many seats in the Royal Box, on a day when distinguished sportsmen and women are invited to occupy this plush vantage point, were vacant. These stars had clearly taken the opportunity to grab some refreshment after a longer than expected clash between Jankovic and Kvitova.
Included on the invitation list were Scottish Commonwealth Games gold medallists Craig MacLean and Neil Fachie, as well as former Irish rugby skipper Brian O’Driscoll and former England striker Gary Lineker.
Murray had wanted to put on a show in front of such celebrated guests. And while he began in blistering form it was another occasion when you were left to wonder just what exactly was wrong with the opponent on the other side of the net. Seppi looked beaten almost before it began and, like Robin Hasse in the previous round, seemed to want to be somewhere else. Murray has already spoken of his plan to conserve strength ahead of the second week of Wimbledon. The way things were going for him after the first two sets last night, it seemed he would have to start running in from his home in Oxshott in the morning in order to burn off excess energy.
Seppi didn’t even have a break point until the eighth game of the second set. And even then he could not convert it or the next one he was presented with as Murray wobbled slightly while trying to secure the second set. But he did. With an ace.
All seemed well with his world, and there was little reason to worry after the first three games of the third set. Even though Seppi led 2-1, it was on serve.
But suddenly Murray lost his mojo, later blaming it on having cooled down during the delay as Seppi was treated. Murray went nearly 45 minutes without winning a game as he struggled to find any sort of rhythm against the Italian, who he had beaten in his six previous meetings. This was not the time to slip up against him. Things looked bleaker still when Murray was broken in the first game of the fourth set.
What’s a player to do? Whether there was some pragmatism in Murray’s decision to call for a trainer, who can say? But it certainly felt as though he was saying: ‘two can play at this game’. On came Sniteman, who worked his magic – again.
Murray seemed like a different person, breaking Seppi on the resumption, which is what the Italian had done to him after his own, possibly cannily-timed break near the start of the third set. The Scot was not in trouble again.