Murray needs home help to down Federer
If ever a Wimbledon semi-final were hard to predict, it is tonight's show-stopping clash between the two form players of the fortnight: Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
And this is why the crowd's contribution has become such a talking point. Should the match go to five sets - as almost everyone is predicting - the extra impetus provided by the 15,000 fans on Centre Court could make all the difference.
But who will they cheer for? In his very understated and Swedish way, Andy Murray's new coach Jonas Bjorkman called last night for the spectators to get behind the home hope.
"A bit of edge supporting Andy would be great," said Bjorkman, who played - and lost - his own semi-final against Federer here in 2006. "I think they should be fair but hopefully with a little bit of an edge."
To the credit of Murray and his two coaches, Bjorkman and Amelie Mauresmo, he has run his campaign this fortnight with brutal efficiency. There has been no equivalent, for instance, of his mental meltdown against Grigor Dimitrov last summer.
Or even of the five-set quarter-final he squeezed through in 2013, eventually seeing off Fernando Verdasco through a combination of bloody-mindedness and sheer dumb luck.
But it is hard to imagine him beating an in-the-groove Federer today without having to dig deep inside himself. Which is where that crowd, once again, could come into play. The only problem is that tennis is the least jingoistic of sports.
Fans are almost as likely to pick their favourites on personality or artistic impression as they are to follow their own compatriots. And no one draws more support away from home than Federer.
Murray and Federer have done battle twice on this court before, first in the 2012 Wimbledon final - where the supporters were split into roughly equal camps - and then again three weeks later at the Olympics, when the spirit of the Games translated into the loudest support Murray has ever enjoyed.
Is it any coincidence that he found his finest form that day, sweeping Federer aside for the loss of only seven games?
The way this match is shaping up, it feels like another final. Yet the winner will still have to go out again to face another opponent in Sunday's showpiece.
And on the face of it, today's first semi-final looks as straightforward as the second one is unpredictable. It pits Novak Djokovic, the world No 1 and defending champion, against the self-effacing Frenchman Richard Gasquet.
"I'm the worst (player in the semi-finals) when you see Federer, Djokovic and Murray and me," said Gasquet, with a broad smile, on Wednesday night.
But will this give Djokovic - assuming he stays on course - the advantage in the final straight? Not according to Mats Wilander, the seven-time grand-slam champion who is anchoring Live at Wimbledon this summer.
"I think if Federer and Murray really get out there and test each other," said Wilander, "they are both going to have to raise their games so high that suddenly the confidence level goes way up, and they believe they can beat Djokovic. The closer the match is, the better it is for both Murray and Federer. It's going to send a message to the other finalist.
"I think it will go the distance tomorrow," added Wilander. "Both of them will figure out a way to prolong the match to the very end. And the thing that can make a difference is the crowd.
"If Andy gets fired up, then fires them up, that would be an extra gear he could go to." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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