Wimbledon 2012: Andy Murray marches into semi-finals with thrilling defeat of David Ferrer
Can anyone deny Andy Murray a first crack at a Wimbledon final? David Ferrer did all he could to block the path.
Like a silent-movie villain, Ferrer spent the best part of four hours hauling rocks and lumber on to the tracks. But in the end the Murray train burst through to set up a tantalising last-four encounter with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
What a contrast this is from the mood a fortnight ago, when Murray limped into the tournament with a dodgy back and not a single grass-court victory to his name all season. Now he is back in the semi-finals for the fourth year in a row — an extraordinary level of consistency that equals Tim Henman’s (non-consecutive) record. And judging by the almost nonchalant way that he closed out yesterday’s match, there is more to come. Perhaps the most significant event in Britain’s sporting summer won’t be the Olympics, but the laying of Fred Perry’s ghost.
The pessimists might object that Murray has lost all three of his previous semi-finals at Wimbledon — to Andy Roddick in 2009 and to Rafael Nadal in 2010 and 2011. But Roddick has, in all probability, left SW19 for the last time. And Nadal is back in Majorca nursing his sore knees, after Lukas Rosol sprung the surprise of the season under the stately pleasure-dome of the Centre Court roof.
This year, Murray’s semi-final opponent will be Tsonga, a man he dismantled comprehensively on both their previous grass-court meetings — the most recent being last year’s Queen’s final.
It seems unlikely that we will see one of those on Friday, given the level of seriousness required for the semi-finals of a Grand Slam. But Murray is a more delicate and imaginative player than the barnstorming Tsonga, and should feel encouraged by a head-to-head record that stands at 5-1 in his favour.
Murray did his best to play down the absence of Nadal from the bottom of the draw last night. “Jo is a tough opponent,” he said, “and he has served very well this tournament. It’s a very different match to playing against Rafa, but he’s one of the best grass court players in the world, that’s for sure.”
Still, there is no denying the fact that Murray’s 2012 Wimbledon campaign has been his strongest to date, nor that the route to the final stands more invitingly open than it has ever done in the past. With the expressionless Ivan Lendl looking on from the player’s box, Murray is standing tall and acting like a grown man, rather than the oversized teenager we have seen in previous years. Could this be the year he fulfils his destiny?
Murray will need his day off today after a fiendishly intense tussle with Ferrer, who fought every step of the way before succumbing 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6. The only consistent thing in this riveting match was Andre Agassi’s shaven head, sitting dead centre in the Royal Box as he drank in every one of the 315 points, many of which produced intricate rallies.
You can only imagine that Agassi was thinking, “Thank goodness I don’t have to go through this any more,” because it was one of the most agonising and tightly contested encounters of the tournament. The first two sets both went to tie-breaks, and at one point Ferrer had a point for a 7-6, 7-6 lead, which would surely have been decisive.
But Murray pounded down a hefty serve and then followed up with a monster forehand to see off the danger. He went on to equalise at one set apiece, and then slipped into an increasingly smooth service rhythm, landing no fewer than 83 per cent of his first serves in the fourth set. With his biggest weapon firing, he felt confident enough to spread the play wide on both sides of the court, so Ferrer was doing most of the running.
After the match, Murray was asked plenty of questions about the pressure he was under, and whether he felt he could win the title. He gave one intriguing answer that turned to another sport. “LeBron James obviously is a great basketball player,” Murray said, “but there’s a lot of people that said he would never win, that he never played his best in finals, and that in the fourth quarter of games he never steps up.
“I don’t need to go into the whole background of his whole story, but winning [the NBA finals] this year for him, I’m sure, was massive. I would say for me it’s a similar situation. I’ve been close a lot of times and not quite made it. I just have to keep putting myself in the position, and hopefully it will click.”