By TW Contributing Editor, Andrew Burton
So, the anticipated Federer-Roddick rematch doesn't happen twice over - the one eliminated in R64 by Gilles Simon, the other in R32 by Marin Cilic. Cilic has featured earlier this week in my efforts to see who's coming up on the next wave.
The one candidate left in the draw I hadn't seen play yet in this tournament was Andy Murray. If I'd been writing a "red meat" post on Murray, I was going to call it "Growing Pains." Murray, as many of you know, is a player I've picked for some time as a likely top 5 player. I was impressed by his strokes, if not his demeanor, at IW in March 2007, when I described him as "the anti-Agassi."
He's seemed to be on the threshold for a while, starting with an upset victory over Roddick at Wimbledon two years ago, then making two hardcourt Masters SFs in succession at IW and Miami. After a break for an unfortunate wrist injury last summer, he came back apparently stronger than ever, winning multiple titles late in 2007 and early in 2008. But still no breakthrough, and brave talk before his Wimbledon QF with Nadal wasn't matched with any play that troubled the Spaniard on the grass.
Today, Murray played Stanislaus Wawrinka, in a match that may have ramifications later this year when invitations to the YEC are made. Murray broke in Wawrinka's first service game, then again, served out for 6-2, and had Wawrinka at 15-40 in the first game of set two. Wawrinka then held, broke, held, broke, held and broke for 6-0, held, and had Murray at BP in the next game. Murray seemed to find this turn of events a bit of a trial.
When Murray's leading, he goes about his business with apparent equanimity. When he's losing, he's a picture of self dismay. Murray's signature shot, for me, is his sliced BH, which he hits with tremendous spin, depth and angle. Murray's signature gesture is to bring his hand in a half-clenched fist in front of his eyes, and then mime a gesture as if he's ripping his own face off. Wawrinka tends to go about his own business, ahead or behind, like a bank manager who's worried that any exuberance would be unseemly. Murray, on the other hand, acts like one of those characters in the movies - think, for example, of Tom Hulce as Larry "Pinto" Kroger in Animal House - who has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.
What makes matters even more remarkable is that Murray has outsourced the angel role to his entourage, a group of about 5 or 6 people, one female, who sit in the front row at the back of one end of the court near the ad sideline. While the devil in Murray's soul berates him for poor shots, poor movement, poor reads and any and all other failings, the angels in the stands encourage him at each point, right here, great shot, keep fighting, come on, this point.
Murray has had an excellent record in the third set of three, and he rallied to hold, then break Wawrinka in the seventh game of the match, the one break in the third set. In the press conference after the match he was calm, almost cerebral in his responses. I got the last question in, asking him if his greater shot variety than his peers - of spins, pace, and height - made it more difficult for him to construct a consistently winning strategy. Here's Murray's answer, in full:
"I just think -- you know, I got asked that a lot in the last year or so, and I just think that it takes a bit longer to get to your highest level of tennis. I think when I get to 23, 24 is when I'm going to be playing my best.
I think when you have a lot of options in your game, especially when you're young, you can make some more mistakes and get a little bit confused on the court sometimes.
With each match and each tournament I'm starting to get closer and closer to understanding the best way to play my game. Sometimes I play a little bit inconsistent.
I'm sure in a couple years when I have that experience, you know, I'll be playing very good tennis."
If he does successfully integrate the warring sides of his personality his speed and shotmaking still make him the pick of the litter, for me.
As always, enjoy today's matches. If, by some mischance, this thread is still standing when the last of tomorrow's matches is done, feel free to go OT then. Ed McGrogan and I had an odyssey trying to find some courts to play on this morning and ended up with about 20 minutes of light hitting. Hopefully we'll see more play at the Centre Court today, on what looks like the best weather day of the week.