Wimbledon: Murray poised to pounce
Big-name exits leave Scot with clear path to Djokovic showdown
Here in Strawberry Fields, nothing is real. Have we been transported to Glastonbury? Indeed, the 127th Wimbledon has been surreal in the extreme and possibly will get a little weirder in the second week as Andy Murray prepares to navigate his way past a selection of potential opponents who might be wondering if they had arrived in a Tardis, on his way to a considerably tougher examination.
He will have for company his Olympic silver medal partner Laura Robson, and they are the first British pair in the second week of the tournament since Sam Smith and Tim Henman flew the flag in 1998. It will be an emotional ride.
And here is another oddity: if Murray gets to the final, he will become only the third player since seedings of 32 were introduced here in 2002 to do so without having to play anyone inside the ATP's top 20. His opponent tomorrow is Mikhail Youzhny, seeded 22nd and ranked 26th in the world.
Only Roger Federer in 2008, against Lleyton Hewitt, seeded 20 but rated 27, and David Nalbandian in 2002, against No 27 in the world Nicolas Lapentti, have had easier runs to the final in the past 11 years.
As much as Murray, the world No 2, likes to emphasise that the only pressure he is feeling after three rounds is imposed by the media – which keep reminding him what a doddle he has had of it so far, with the unscheduled ejection of Federer, Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on his side of the draw – there is no escaping the numbers.
Look away, Andy, but this really is a golden opportunity. After Youzhny it will be either the Spaniard Fernando Verdasco (54) or the Frenchman Kenny de Schepper (80) in the quarters, followed in the semi-finals by any one of Lukasz Kobot (130), Adrian Mannarino (111), Jerzy Janowicz (24) or Jurgen Melzer (37). That is not exactly a graveyard run. The likelihood is it will be Janowicz, who grows in stature by the day.
There might well be such a notion as reverse-pressure, where expectations rise as the quality of the opposition drops, but before the tumult of the first week, Murray was headed for a quarter-final against sixth seed Tsonga or 10th seed Marin Cilic and a semi-final against third seed Federer or fifth seed Nadal, the supposed draw from hell.
As Djokovic said earlier in the week, when asked similar questions about delivering on expectations, "Pressure is a privilege". Both deserve to be in the final. Both will try to block out flotsam and jetsam from their minds as the occasion moves towards its climax. It won't be easy but it goes with the job. They would not have it any other way.
Murray was in relaxed mood yesterday after appearing on Centre Court in a suit and tie for the first time, alongside the other Olympic and Paralympic gold medallists. He did not look out of place and athletes from other disciplines deferred to him, reflecting his rapidly growing profile and their respect for what he has achieved this year.
"That was good," he said later. "It was a nice thing to do. I am surprised how many athletes managed to come, and to co-ordinate them was a good effort."
He was particularly pleased to share the stage with his fellow Scot Chris Hoy, the recently retired cycling great.
"He has come to watch a couple of times before, here once and also in Australia, he came to watch out there. My mum has done a few bits and pieces with him up in Scotland as well so she probably knows him a bit better than me."
By way of putting in context his drive for a first Wimbledon title, Murray said yesterday's gathering of sporting peers reinforced the view he held at the time that the London Olympics really were special, and not just for him, but for the whole of Britain.
"It was cool to be able to do something like that," he said. "For me it was the best 10 days of my career, I don't think it will ever really be topped. Yes, it was ahead of the US Open, because the whole experience was just great. The first Olympics I went to I said at the time was one of my best experiences, because I got to meet all the other athletes and go to see all the other sports and stuff. Obviously having it here, that was never going to happen again, but with the way the 10 days went it was great."
He handled that occasion brilliantly. He certainly looks as if he will be similarly in the groove over the next seven days.