ANDY MURRAY spent long periods of his quarter-final match at Wimbledon lying on the canvas. He was being pummelled mercilessly by Fernando Verdasco, a handsome Spaniard who is built like a UFC fighter.
The new Murray, the assertive, commanding figure England is growing used to, was soon jettisoned as Verdasco streaked into a two-set lead. Instead we reverted to Murray Mk I – a scampering, scurrying figure with "his a**e on the back fence," as Murray has described his own style before the Ivan Lendl-inspired revolution.
But if Murray's game was patchy, his mental fortitude was magnificent. When he faced four break points in the fourth set – virtual match points, considering the level of his opponent's performance – he crunched down a big first serve on each occasion. He might not have been able to overpower Verdasco, but he outwilled him to sneak through 4-6 3-6 6-1 6-4 7-5.
The last five minutes were the only ones he spent in the lead. Having already seen Juan Martin del Potro recover from the most alarming fall of the fortnight to beat David Ferrer, the Centre Court crowd never lost faith in their man's ability to pull off a miracle.
In all the eight tournaments Murray has played at Wimbledon, is hard to remember a more fervent reception than this. His name was chanted time and again, most rousingly when he scored the final, crucial break with a piledriver of an inside-out forehand.
Before the tournament, Murray had sent a polite request to the all-too decorous patrons of Wimbledon to give him a rousing reception. He used a football analogy to explain his position, and there were certainly moments yesterday when the 15,000 fans could have been responding to a winner scored in the 89th minute, rather than a sweetly-struck serve.
"When I went behind," Murray said, "the crowd definitely got right behind me and made a huge, huge difference. I love it when it's like that.
"It was extremely noisy. They were right into it pretty much every single point."
Verdasco looked the part yesterday. And when he launched his cobra strike of a serve, he had the ball under equally precise control. "He really went for it," said Murray, "going for the lines and coming up with some huge serves at big moments."
A second-serve ace at 15-30 down, deep in the final set, revealed a heart as big as Frankel's.
The second set saw more nervy and erratic play, as Murray took a 3-1 lead only to be broken twice in return.
"My level dropped after I went ahead," Murray said, "and I was rushing. I gave too many free points away. So I thought about what I was doing wrong and the best way to get myself to get back into the match. I changed tactics a little bit, was more patient."
Not that anyone watching on TV would have recognised the serene and lucid description offered above, as he sat in his chair at the changeovers and turned the BBC's airwaves blue with frustration.
Commentator Andrew Castle had to apologise at one point, as Murray snarled "What the f**k are you doing?" at himself.
How will this marathon affect the rest of Murray's tournament? "Providing I'm able to do the right things to recover properly, then you can feel decent the next day," he said. And, as five-set matches go, it was relatively economical at 3hrs 27mins.
Of course there will be a few weary muscles as he goes into tomorrow's semi-final against the maverick Pole Jerzy Janowicz. But Murray has dodged a bullet here. As any champion will tell you, staging a comeback in a match you should really have lost can be a very freeing experience. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
TG4, 1.0 / BBC 2, 12.30, BBC 1, 1.45