Andy Murray has reached base camp, but now he has to climb the mountain. In earning a place in the semi-finals of the Olympic tournament here with victory over Nicolas Almagro yesterday, the 25-year-old Scot has attained his initial goal, which was to ensure he will be back on Sunday when the medals are decided.
The men blocking his route to gold, however, are Novak Djokovic and, in all probability, Roger Federer, the last two Wimbledon champions.
If Murray beats Djokovic today, he will play for the gold medal in two days' time against the winner of this afternoon's second semi-final between Federer – the man who beat him in the Wimbledon final less than four weeks ago– and Juan Martin del Potro. If he loses, Murray will face the other beaten semi-finalist on Sunday in a match to decide who will win the bronze.
For the moment, Murray's only focus will be on Djokovic, a contemporary he has known since they first met in a junior tournament in France at the age of 12. "It's obviously going to be a tough match," Murray said. "I need to be ready for it."
While the Serb has outstripped the Scot in terms of their recent achievements, winning four of the last seven Grand Slam tournaments, Murray has won five of their last nine meetings. Djokovic has won their only Grand Slam encounters, in last year's Australian Open final and this year's semi-finals, but today will be their first match on grass.
"We've both been playing really well and making good results in Wimbledon in the last five years," Djokovic said when asked whom the conditions might favour.
"I don't think it goes to anybody's advantage. He's definitely been playing well and he's going to have big support from the crowd. I think he went as close as ever to winning his first Grand Slam trophy just a couple of weeks ago, so he's motivated as much as I am to win."
There is no greater patriot than Djokovic, who traces back the turnaround in his fortunes over the last 18 months to Serbia's Davis Cup triumph in 2010. Winning the Olympic bronze in Beijing in 2008 reduced him to tears and he has played with great passion here this week.
Murray has also revelled in the Olympic experience. "There are a lot of people that think that maybe tennis isn't necessarily an Olympic sport, but I know how much I care about it and how much I want to do well here and want to try to win a medal, be part of the team and try and help Britain's medal count if I can," he said.
"I've really enjoyed it so far. I hope I can go one better on Friday and get a medal, but I really enjoy being part of a team and playing for my country. It's a different sort of emotion when you're on the court."
Both men reached the semi-finals with something to spare. Murray beat Spain's Almagro 6-4, 6-1 in just 59 minutes. The world No 4 served beautifully, hitting 15 aces, but Almagro offered only limited resistance in the second set after suffering a shoulder problem.
Djokovic has sometimes struggled on the surface here this week – "There's a lot of holes, a lack of grass, especially around the baseline," he said yesterday – but was still too good for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, winning 6-1, 7-5.
Having opened the day's programme on Court One, Murray returned in the evening to play his first-round mixed doubles match with Laura Robson. The Britons beat the experienced Czech pair, Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka, 7-5, 6-7, 10-7. Today they will face Australia's Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Stosur.
Serena Williams, the Wimbledon champion, continued her seemingly unstoppable run towards the gold medal, dropping only three games against Caroline Wozniacki to set up a semi-final against Victoria Azarenka.
Williams has won her last six meetings with the world No 1, including their Wimbledon semi-final here last month.
Maria Kirilenko maintained her fine form to beat Petra Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, 7-6, 6-3. The world No 15 now meets Maria Sharapova, who beat Kim Clijsters 6-2, 7-5.Reuse content