An electric running forehand from Grigor Dimitrov bolted off the baseline and jolted Andy Murray. Pounding his palm against his forehead in frustration, one of the game's shrewdest problem solvers winced, already out of answers against a streaking opponent.
When Murray wasn't busy beating himself up, Dimitrov dished out a stylish brand of all-court punishment. Tormenting Murray with his all-court acumen, a confident Dimitrov dethroned the defending champion, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-2, to advance to his first career Grand Slam semifinal.
A day after 19-year-old wild card Nick Kyrgios stunned world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, 2008 Wimbledon junior champion Dimitrov schooled Murray by dictating with his stinging serve, commanding the center of the court, and breaking down the Scot's forehand. The Bulgarian moved fluidly and attacked with force and finesse, winning 20 of 22 trips to net with both whipping swing volleys and angled drop volleys.
These two practice together, but Dimitrov, who said he sensed the third seed was skittish during the warm-up, treated Murray like a lowly sparring partner. He beat Murray to the ball and beat him up from the baseline. Playing before a packed Centre Court crowd starring monarchy—the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—and tennis royalty—Hall of Famers Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall—Dimitrov had to deal with nerves before he could dissect Murray.
A tight Dimitrov saved a break point in the first game, then Grigor found his groove. Dimitrov generates more juice and spin on his forehand than Murray, and effectively used the short-angled slice backhand to set up his forehand strike.
A dipping slice backhand pass baffled Murray at net. Two points later, Dimitrov attacked behind an inside-out forehand to break at 15 for 3-1. That aggressive fire sparked a run of 12 straight points by Dimitrov, who played like a man empowered by the belief that his first strike was the heavier blow. Murray's forehand failed him combating Dimitrov's depth, and when the third seed netted successive forehands, the No. 11 seed had a second break and 5-1 lead just 20 minutes into the match. A free-flowing Dimitrov followed a mis-hit swing volley to net and snapped off a smash to seize a 25-minute first set.
They traded breaks in the seventh and eight games of the second set. Withstanding a 31-shot rally with some defensive stabs, Murray drew a netted backhand and waved his arms, exhorting the Centre Court crowd to make more noise. Sliding an ace wide, the champion held for 5-4. Two games later, Murray stared down two break points, but fought through the crisis and held for 6-5.
At 4-all in the tiebreaker, Dimitrov unleashed a torrent of spins and angles to take charge. Angling a short slice return to lure Murray forward, Dimitrov spun a sharp backhand pass for the mini break. He backed it up with a sneak attack and exquisite backhand drop volley for double set point. Attacking again, Dimitrov snapped a high backhand volley down the line, hammering a clenched fist over his heart to celebrate a two-set lead. Murray, who carried a 17-match winning streak at the All England Club into the quarterfinals, was teetering.
A dynamic Dimitrov, who faced only two break points all day, played with a strong sense of belief and stayed the course in the third set. Meanwhile, Murray's body language screamed stress. An ornery Murray spun a second serve wide donating the break and a 4-2 third-set advantage to Dimitrov. A double fault then gave Dimitrov double match point.
Murray, who clanked twice as many errors (37 to 18), put a final forehand into net, ending his reign—and run of five straight semifinals at SW19. Dimitrov thrust his arms in the air in a somewhat subdued celebration, perhaps out of respect for a friend—and maybe because the Queen's Club champion believes there are more Centre Court celebrations to come.
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