Andy Murray takes on David Ferrer today in the Quarterfinals of Wimbledon, but how do we rate his chances of becoming the first British Male to advance to the Wimbledon finals since 1938?
Heading into one of the biggest few days of Andy Murray’s career, there is a certain element of vibrancy and anticipation among British supporters as Wimbledon 2012 reaches the latter stages. One surprise result and the draw is blown completely wide open for the Scot, but he must exploit this stroke of good luck, or he may have blown his best chance at lifting the slam of all slams…
It is amazing how expectations can change in one week. World Number 2 and two time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal’s stunning defeat at the hands of relative unknown Lukas Rosol last Thursday paved the way for Andy Murray to become the top seed in the bottom half of the draw, and thus favourite to at least reach the final. Yet on the eve of the tournament, aside from the generic hype around Murray and British players from the fans and press, the man from Dunblane had been heavily written off.
The common view was that the rest of the field, Murray included, had to pull of miracles to challenge the ‘top 3’ in reigning champion Novak Djokovic, Nadal, and 6 time winner Roger Federer. For the last 2 or 3 years Murray has been classed as part of a ‘top 4’, but persistent failures in semi finals, particulary to Nadal over the last year, has led to many questioning whether he has the mental strength to cut it in the 4 Grand Slams. Now though, with Nadal out and Murray awaiting a Quarter-Final with clay court specialist David Ferrer, there is a genuine sense that this could be Murray’s year to at least challenge for the title on the final Sunday of the fortnight.
Murray’s pathway to the Quarter-Finals hasn’t been electrifying, but he has yet to be severely challenged by what has been an extremely tough draw on paper. Former World Number 3 Nikolay Davydenko was brutally brushed aside in the opening round, before Murray ground out tough but impressive 4 set victories over potential banana skins in Ivo Karlovic and Marcos Baghdatis. The Baghdatis match caught the eye even more than normal as the Centre Court roof allowed the match to creep past 11pm; the cut-off of play due to a residential curfew.
It seems this excitement, coupled with Murray’s merciless nature in the final set against the Cypriot generated a new and realistic belief that this could be the Brit’s year. In the 4th round, he duly dispatched of 16th seed Marin Cilic in clinical fashion despite a rain delay disrupting his progress. If he can carry on this form into his tricky last 8 meeting with Ferrer, the man who beat him at this stage at the French Open less than a month ago, then Murray should outplay his opponent thanks to his superior grass court record. Ferrer will be no pushover, as proven by his convincing victories over Andy Roddick and Juan Martin Del Potro in the previous rounds, but Murray has the ammunition to play the Spaniard off the court, whereas the slow clay in France favoured Ferrer. A potential Semi-Final against the dangerous and enigmatic Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could lie in wait, in which Murray’s mental strength could be tested more than technical factors. Both have reached Grand Slam finals before, but neither have at Wimbledon, so the player who remains consistent and more psychologically focused should prevail.
Going into the tournament, however, Murray’s form was appalling. He lost in his opening round at Queen’s to Nicholas Mahut, before losing to Djokovic and the Serb’s fellow compatriot Janko Tipsarevic at the Boodles Exhibition Event. These poor performances, plus the added factor of the supreme form that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer had showed all year meant that the doubters were really jumping on Murray’s back prior to Wimbledon. Yet looking at the Scot so far in the tournament, you could almost argue these doubts have aided him. He looks far more relaxed than previous years despite the expected British hopes being once again solely pinned on his success, whilst the top 3, as shown by Nadal’s shock defeat, have failed to astound as they have done in previous years. There is a clear opportunity for Murray to take advantage of now and he simply must grasp it.
If Murray fails to capitalise on this opening, his chances of another tilt at the Wimbledon title may be slim. Whilst Federer is in the twilight of his time on the circuit, Nadal and Djokovic are still in the peak of their careers, so he will have to keep up with them for many years to come. Many have echoed the view that if Murray was playing in any other generation he would have undoubtedly broken his Grand Slam duck, he has just been unlucky to play in an era containing 3 of the greatest players to ever grace the game. Even Andre Agassi suggested that if Murray had competed in his time, the American would probably have less Grand Slam titles to his name than he finished with.
Murray must seize this chance, starting by beating Ferrer and getting himself into the final 4 again. If he can do that and Tsonga fails to produce his best then he will really fancy himself against either Djokovic or Federer with the patriotic home support behind him. Nadal’s surprising failure was certainly Murray’s gain; it simply lies in the Brit’s hands as to what extent he chooses to capitalize on it…