Pain but no gain as Murray bows out
By the end, Andy Murray's second serve was fluttering over the net with all the power of a wounded moth. The pain radiating from his troublesome right hip had finally caught up with him, and his quest for a third Wimbledon title was over.
Throughout this tournament, the defending champion had sought to make light of his physical travails, advancing to his 10th straight quarter-final at the All England Club, but he looked a husk of his usual self after five sets of trying and failing to resist giant-serving American Sam Querrey.
Worryingly for his long-term health, Murray (below) indicated that the hip discomfort was a chronic problem that he would struggle to shake. "I've been dealing with it for a very long time in my career," said the world No 1, who only turned 30 two months ago. "As you get older, things get a little tougher to manage than they are when you're younger. There's a bit more wear and tear."
There was a pain and a sadness in Murray's deportment as he sloped off Centre Court with a pronounced limp. Somehow, amid his dismay, he even had the decency to sign a few autographs. His mother Judy watched on in alarm at his predicament, and with good reason.
A question mark hangs over how long Murray has been privately toiling through his injury, and how much he has aggravated it by doing so. The best tonic for Murray, who succumbed to his earliest loss at Wimbledon for three years, would be to take some time off.
This lopsided match, in which Querrey prevailed 3-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1, 6-1, reflects a display of unerring ruthlessness on the Californian's part in the fourth and fifth sets. Truth be told, though, he was playing a man on one leg.
Murray's first serve was firing at less than 100mph (160kmh) in certain phases, and against an adversary with the weapons of Querrey that proved impossible to sustain. Querrey, who became the first American male to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since Andy Roddick in 2009, celebrated with rare emotion.
One faint consolation for Murray is that he will still preserve his top-ranked status beyond Sunday's final. These championships have been strewn with the walking wounded, and last night Novak Djokovic, the only rival who could have usurped him, retired early from his match against Tomas Berdych with an injured elbow.
He was wearily accepting, though, of the prospect that he would be overtaken soon, as he offered a withering verdict on his form. "I haven't played well enough this year to deserve to stay there much longer," he said. "If it doesn't happen by the end of the tournament, it will happen by the end of the US Open."
It was a reflection of Murray's sportsmanship that he ascribed his pulverising in the last two sets to the talents of his opponent, but the body language on court told a different story. He was grimacing, clutching his side, feathering his serves in rather than lashing them with any real venom.
Nothing - not a rub-down from the trainer, not even the healing hands of Uri Geller - could rescue him from this all too public ordeal.
His hip had first flared up a few days before Wimbledon, when he pulled out of a couple of exhibition matches, and he took every precaution to protect it, taking regular ice baths and fitting in 20 minutes of extra exercises each evening. But there was no masking the deterioration yesterday.
"Right to the end I gave it everything I had," he shrugged. "I'm proud about that, but clearly it's disappointing to lose. There was an opportunity there, so I'm sad that it's over."
All had looked serene for Murray when he led by a set and a break, but momentum swiftly deserted him as Querrey fired a brilliant driving backhand to level at one set apiece.
Frustrations were on display even then, as Murray slipped into Basil Fawlty mode at his miscues, hitting himself with his racquet.
Querrey is a lethal server on his day, but a streaky player as opposed to a world-beater, and the tale of the tape pointed only in one direction. After all, Murray had won eight of their nine previous meetings.
He seemed to regain his composure in the third, taking the tie-break 7-4, but this was followed by a rapid tailspin that was at times difficult to watch. Visibly wincing from the discomfort of his service motion, he won a mere nine points on serve in the fourth set, giving Querrey the cue to pounce upon his prey.
One dazzling point at the net in the decider, as he found a winner from the most acute of angles, would seal it. Querrey served out with aplomb, firing down his 27th ace of the afternoon. Murray, utterly disconsolate, took his bow.
He talked of absorbing salutary lessons, of using the experience to make him a better athlete, but that is for another day. On this grisly evidence, a period of convalescence cannot come soon enough. (© Daily Telegraph, London)