Murray rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the second set, but of greater surprise was the second seed’s drop in form after a convincing opening set and a lively series of points that followed. At 1-1 in the second, with Youzhny serving, Murray aimed a backhand lob with the precision of a darts player, feet firmly planted in the most worn-down portion of the baseline. The Russian knew, as is always the case when this shot is struck well, that the point was over before the ball climbed to even half its apex.
On the next point—a break point—it was time for forehand wizardry. Youzhny hit two well-angled backhands to open up the court, and placed a forehand in a difficult position for a reply. Murray, imitating Pete Sampras the only way he could, ran full on for his own forehand and struck a brilliant cross-court pass, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Murray was ecstatic; Youzhny sat silent on the changeover before calmly hiding his head in a towel.
Perhaps Murray got a bit ahead of himself, as Youzhny would tick off four straight games. The 20th seed’s blend of power and finesse helped right his service games, and some self-inflicted Murray mishaps—including a game-ending double-fault when trailing 2-3—brought an air of concern to Centre Court, and the BBC commentary booth. After one forgettable Murray point, the camera panned to his coach, Ivan Lendl. “Lendl. Staring.”—that’s what we heard on the broadcast, but not much more needed to be said.
However, both men got tight in the second set, the climax of this contest. With Youzhny serving for the set, Murray tracked down a short ball, guided a touch forehand pass, then benefited from an errant forehand from his opponent. Youzhny would save two break points in this game, but not a third, with Murray sensing the slight opening that presented itself.
The tiebreaker opened with a point that showed off the best in both men. They took each other to far-away places, answering one wide-angled shot with a better one until there was simply no room left to operate. Youzhny won this particular exchange to open the first-to-seven-point session, doing so with whipping, forceful backhands that remind you of his many accomplishments.
Murray would face a 5-3 deficit in the tiebreaker, but again would play the pivotal points better than Youzhny. A well-placed drop shot denied Youzhny two set points, and Murray took the next two points for a 6-5 lead. Saving his most aggressive play of the day for this opportune moment, Murray cracked a clean backhand return winner off a second serve, the ball and Youzhny’s chance at making this a match whizzing by him. Murray erupted in celebration again, but there would be no future letdown this time, thanks to more consistent play and a winded opponent.
It should be clear, in breaking down the one competitive set of Murray’s play instead of the entire match, that the local favorite is in fine form heading into his quarterfinal against Fernando Verdasco. Murray’s draw is as good as his game this Wimbledon, and if all goes right, he can emulate the former champion Sampras in another way on Sunday.
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