Five thoughts after Andy Murray’s victory over David Ferrer.
There is no more astonishing losing streak in tennis than the 11-match run of defeats which British men are on in Wimbledon semi-finals. Making the last four at these grass-court Championships is hard – Andy Murray came within a point of going two sets down against David Ferrer – but British men of the modern age so far haven’t found a way to go deeper. For the last occasion that a British man reached a Wimbledon final, you must spool all the way back to the summer of 1938, to Henry ‘Bunny’ Austin, the first man of any nationality to wear shorts at the tournament, and who for his efforts that year was given a ten-pound gift voucher redeemable at a High Street jewellers (so a different age).
For now, try to forget about Fred Perry and 1936; first Murray has to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and emulate Bunny and 1938. Murray will have his fourth attempt at winning a Wimbledon semi-final (he lost to Andy Roddick in 2009 and to Rafael Nadal the past two summers).
For all the excitement in the bottom half of the draw on quarter-final day, it is the top half which provides what many regard as the dream semi, with Novak Djokovic to play Roger Federer. It will be their first encounter on a green court. And whoever comes through will be expected to go on to win the title.
This won’t happen, but the British tennis public ought to consider cooling their jets. They underestimated Ferrer, and look what happened; they shouldn’t underestimate Tsonga. The Frenchman is a fine grass-court player who has the slam-drunks, the diving volleys and the talent to beat Murray. Has a tennis nation ever got ahead of themselves as much as the British public have done with Murray this summer? From the moment that Nadal lost in the second round to Lukas Rosol, many of Britain’s casual tennis observers were already fast-forwarding to the second Sunday for Murray’s first appearance in a Wimbledon final.
That was ignoring the fact that there were other world-class players, including a world-class Spaniard, still left in the draw. Murray hadn’t underestimated the world No 5, a player who had defeated Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro in the preceding two rounds – including giving Del Potro a horse-whipping. But a lot of other people had done. Some would only have started to take Ferrer seriously when he had a point for the second set. If Murray had lost this, Rosol’s victory over Nadal would have been an irrelevance to Murray’s tournament. For the fourth time in the last five summers, Murray was inconvenienced by a Spaniard on the Centre Court grass – he lost to Nadal in the 2008 quarter-finals, and in the semi-finals for the past two years. This year, Murray avoided losing to the ‘wrong’ Spaniard, the ‘lesser’ Spaniard.
There was something very British about this quarter-final. Centre Court had royalty, nostalgia (Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf in the front row of the Royal Box), a rain interruption, and a match which had the British tennis public watching through their fingers.
So Ferrer did what he always does. And that made him a real problem. “Like a shampoo commercial,” the BBC’s Andrew Castle said of the Duchess of Cambridge as she shook her hair in disbelief at some of Ferrer’s tennis. But no one should have been at all surprised at the consistency of shot from Ferrer, the only wall at the All England Club not covered in green paint or ivy. Never mind that Ferrer is over 30 years of age, and under six feet tall (so everything an elite tennis player is not supposed to be); the 5ft 9in Iberian hurts his opponents with his effort and his efficiency.
So, with William and Kate, plus the Agassi-Grafs watching in the Royal Box, as well as Rod Laver and a few others, Ferrer did what he always did – he ran a lot, he ran quickly, he ran some more, and he got almost everything back over the net. Okay, there were a few spectacular moments from Ferrer, such as the time in the opening set when he struck a forehand winner from outside the court and around the net post. But this was not a performance built on outrageous winners. Only once did Ferrer play a poor game, and that was when he served for the second set at 5-4. He was broken. Ferrer also led 5-2 in the second-set tiebreak, and had a set point at 6-5. But it was Murray who took the tiebreak, and so levelled the match. Many other players would have fallen away mentally after that. Ferrer didn’t.