If everything had looked all too easy for Andy Murray in his first two matches here at the Olympic tournament, Marcos Baghdatis gave the world No 4 a timely reminder that the challenges will only get tougher as he continues his quest for gold. The 27-year-old Cypriot got the better of Murray for the best part of an hour before the home favourite turned the match around to win 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 and book his place in today’s quarter-finals.
Murray had played his opening two matches under the Centre Court roof, but this time the 25-year-old Scot had to deal with a gusting wind, which whipped up clouds of dust from the heavily worn areas around the baseline. Baghdatis, a streaky player who can be a threat to anyone when on song, dictated proceedings until the match turned when he made a dreadful error early in the second set.
“At the start of the match it was very windy and it pretty much continued that way,” Murray said. “After playing two matches indoors, where there's none of that to worry about, I was pretty unsure of myself at the beginning of the match and didn't feel comfortable on the court. Then I managed to settle myself down and move my feet better to get in better position in the second set. I played some good tennis after that.”
Baghdatis broke serve in the opening game as Murray struggled to find his rhythm. The Scot broke to level at 2-2, but at 3-3 played an uncharacteristically loose game to hand Baghdatis a break to love and the Cypriot went on to serve out for the first set.
The momentum shifted decisively in the fourth game of the second set. Baghdatis had put himself in trouble with two double faults and on Murray’s second break point the former Australian Open runner-up put what should have been an easy forehand put-away into the net. Murray broke again two games later and levelled the match at one set apiece.
The Scot’s growing confidence was evident on the opening point of the final set as he dived, Becker-like, to hit a glorious forehand volley winner. By the time he led 2-0 in the decider Murray had won seven games in a row. Baghdatis, having finally stopped the rot, briefly threatened when he got to 15-30 as Murray served for the match, but the world No 4 won the next three points, securing victory with a big forehand winner into the corner. His roar of celebration showed how much winning here would mean to him.
“When you play in front of a home crowd, the support is great,” Murray said. “It can push you on when you're in tough situations. But with that does also come a bit of extra pressure and today there was a fair amount of tension on the court. That's probably why my celebration was what it was. It was a release of that tension.”
In the quarter-finals Murray faces the world No 12, Spain’s Nicolas Almagro, who has lost their last two matches. One potential problem for Murray could be his mixed doubles commitments after his first-round match in partnership with Laura Robson was cancelled last night and rescheduled for today. If Murray keeps winning he will have to play singles and mixed matches both today and tomorrow.
In tomorrow’s singles semi-finals Murray or Almagro will play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Novak Djokovic, who was pushed hard by Lleyton Hewitt before winning 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. Roger Federer, who beat Denis Istomin 7-5, 6-3, will meet John Isner in the quarter-finals, but his reign as Olympic doubles champion alongside Stanislas Wawrinka ended with a 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 defeat by Israel’s Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram.
It was a day of contrasting fortunes for the Williams sisters. Venus lost 7-6, 7-6 to Angelique Kerber, while Serena beat Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-0 with a wonderful display of shot-making. The Wimbledon champion, who hit 32 winners to Zvonareva’s three, believes she is playing even better than she did in winning the title here last month.
Many top players were ambivalent about the return of tennis to the Olympics in 1988, but the quality of today’s quarter-final line-ups shows how attitudes have changed. The eight men are all in the world’s top 12, while all eight women are in the top 15 except Kim Clijsters, who has dropped to No 36 only because injuries have prevented her from playing.