It can’t be easy with the salivating focus of an expectant host nation and, oh, the mere matter of 77 years of gloomy history weighing on his shoulders, but Andy Murray managed the closest he gets to a smile as destiny loomed that little bit closer.
No player in tennis faces the kind of scrutiny that is heaped on world No. 2 Murray at Wimbledon time, primarily due to Britain’s embarrassing failure to produce a homegrown men’s singles champion since Fred Perry in 1936.
Throw in his Olympic Games gold medal triumph on these same London lawns last summer, a maiden Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open in September, and a series of bracket-busting shocks in this opening week – and the patriotic ardor for an end to that agonizing wait has hit overdrive, all of it focused upon one man.
“From what I have heard, people are putting even more pressure on me because of the nature of how the draw has worked out,” said Murray after rolling past 32nd seed Tommy Robredo 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 in the third round. “I have just got to try and stay focused, not worry about that stuff. It is hard. There are a lot of very tough players who are looking to make a breakthrough.”
Nothing can be taken for granted in a Grand Slam, yet Murray knows full well that an outstanding opportunity has opened up before him. Defeats for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are rare, but for both modern greats to be gone by the end of the second round, on consecutive days, to players ranked outside the top 100, and it would be easy to be convinced mystical forces were at work. Murray was slated to face one of that duo in the semifinals if seedings had gone as planned in what was regarded as a deathly half of the draw.
Now, with the upsets, it has turned into a blessing, even more so after Murray’s potential quarterfinal opponent, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, exited early because of injury.
Murray had little trouble with the plucky but out-matched clay court specialist Robredo and should be similarly untroubled by either Viktor Troicki or Mikhail Youzhny on Centre Court on Monday in the fourth round.
Aside from Novak Djokovic, plowing his way ominously through the initially weaker top half of the draw, Murray’s toughest opponent may be all that attention, with everything from the color of his mother’s hair to the recipient of a ball he struck into the stands in celebration coming under the spotlight of the thirsty London tabloids.
Little wonder then, perhaps, that Murray diffused some of the tension with a light-hearted offer to take on Serena Williams in a modern version of the Battle of the Sexes clashes of yesteryear.
Locals say London’s early summer has lacked a little sparkle in a country that this time last year was gearing up for an Olympic Games of exceptional quality. If Murray’s cruise continues it will help arrest the malaise.
A year back, he battled mightily but fell to Federer after his early lead in the final was whittled away – the Swiss superstar preferring the slicker conditions once the Centre Court roof was closed due to inclement weather.
This time, all signs point to a showdown with Djokovic, who even admitted as much in a Twitter chat response to actor Kevin Spacey. The world No. 1 has a Wimbledon title to his name – in 2011 – but grass is the Serb’s poorest surface and Murray would like his chances.
Murray does not want a repeat of the miserable trip he made to Wimbledon the day after that Federer defeat, when he sat in the empty stands and thought of what might have been.
That setback reinforced his hunger for this ultimate goal and a slice of history that would mean everything to British sport.
One week down, one week to go, but all seems to be going to plan so far.
“I have been tested,” Murray said. “And I have come through well.”
Bigger tests, of both ability and mind, await.
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