Andy Murray produced a stirring display of pulsating tennis to outmanoeuvre, out-think and outplay Novak Djokovic today, 7-5 7-5, to fire himself into the gold-medal match at the London Olympics.
The surroundings at SW19 were foreign. The TV commentary was audible to the players, the music blared around the court and the magenta Centre looked as loud and lurid as the gunshot tennis produced by Murray and Djokovic.
Some things, though, were ever familiar. Not least the need for Murray, following Roger Federer’s 19-17 third-set defeat of Juan Martin Del Potro, to beat two of the world’s finest-ever players to win a pinnacle tennis tournament.
The match started as it meant to go on, Murray playing with an absolute purpose driven by a pulsing desire to take a tilt at Olympic gold.
In the early exchanges, the Scot moved the Serb laterally like a TV camera at the dog track. Where Murray was active, Djokovic was passive. Where Murray scorched his way to net, the world number two hung back, allowing the Scot to take his chances in the forecourt.Read more (380 words)
This was the first meeting between these two friends on this surface. On this evidence, they should do grass more often, because this was smoking.
It was never more so than at 5-6 with Djokovic serving to stay in the set. Imaginative and expansive hitting from both men, with groundshots like rifle cracks in the evening air, saw Murray moving the Serb around like a hapless puppet.
At 30-30, Murray mixed pace and spin with width to bamboozle Djokovic and steal into the net behind a stretching forehand and bring up a set point. When Murray whipped a forehand passing shot off the turf to take the set, the crowd were suddenly off their seats, sucking the oxygen out of the air and sensing an upset.
The tale of the first-set tape was impressive enough: 68% first-serve success, 11 winners and five unforced errors. But a mental holiday beckoned in the first game of the second set as two unforced errors and an astute lob from Djokovic earned a break point.
Murray snuffed out the flickering flame with some sharp net action and yet more thumping play off the ground.
This was a Murray raised aloft by millions of voices, a man determined to further break down the barriers with the British public that began to fall after his Wimbledon final defeat on this court just four weeks earlier. An astounding diving half volley missed by a bee’s eyebrow, but the crowd, more blue jeans than Wimbledon’s typical white collars, were loving it.
As the second set drew towards a pulsating climax, the pair’s groundshots were drilled with ever-increasing beef into each other’s territories. The retrieving was elastic, the volleying sharp and committed.
With Djokovic serving at 5-6, Murray pummelled his way to 0-15, got lucky when the Serb went long with his approach, and scorched a forehand return to set up three match points. The Scot then fired a bullet backhand at Djokovic’s feet to seal the deal and the crowd were punching the sky and stealing the nitrogen from the London air.
Rarely has Murray looked so energised and enervated on a major stage. Nevertheless, the depth of his Olympic ambition will be laid bare when he goes toe-to-toe with Federer for a crack at Olympic gold this Sunday.