Andy Roddick stood at the net, his shoulders slumped, staring down the court in disbelief and dismay. The Wimbledon runner-up of the last two years had pummelled one of his trademark forehands into the corner and raced forward ready to hit a point-winning volley, only to find the ball flying back past him and beyond his reach.
It would have been painful enough if it had happened only once, but this was a scene repeated time after time as Andy Murray played the match of his life on Centre Court here on Saturday evening. The 19-year-old Scot won 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 in two and a half hours with a display of brilliant and inventive tennis, underlining all the promise he has shown since bursting on to the international stage 12 months ago.
"I've played better in practice before but never in a match - and obviously there's more intensity in matches than in practice," Murray said. "I played some pretty special shots today. I thought I did everything really well."
You can say that again. We knew already about Murray's devilish drop shots and pounding ground strokes, but did anyone expect to see the British baseliner chipping-and-charging against the man with the most ferocious serve in world tennis? It was hard not to feel sorry for Roddick as the American was outwitted by a bewildering display of drop shots, lobs, passing shots and outrageous changes of pace. If this is a sign of things to come, the Wimbledon crowd are in for some thrilling times in the days and years ahead.
In terms of a single victory at the All England Club this was comparable with any of Tim Henman's best performances, dating back to his 1996 triumph over Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the French Open champion and world No 5, and including his wins in the two following years over Richard Krajicek, the defending champion, and Petr Korda, the world No 3.
Roddick has been the second best player in the world on grass for the last three years and Roger Federer, who beat him in the last two finals here, singled out the American as one of the biggest threats to his chances of winning a fourth consecutive Wimbledon crown.
Nevertheless - and without wanting in any way to detract from Murray's wonderful display - time will probably show that this was a win over a man in decline. Roddick, a former world No 1 and current No 5, is likely to fall out of the world's top 10 next week for the first time since January 2003 after what has been a mediocre year.
Although the 23-year-old American had kept insisting that his favourite part of the season was still to come, he has disappointed on grass this summer. This defeat - his earliest Wimbledon exit since losing to Greg Rusedski at the same stage in 2002 - followed a quarter-final loss to James Blake at Queen's Club as he failed to win a fourth consecutive Stella Artois title.
While Roddick's thunderbolt serve and booming forehand remain formidable weapons, they cannot win matches on their own, even on grass. As grass courts have slowed in recent years, so players have been improving their returns of serve and athleticism.
Although Roddick's volleying against Murray was indecisive and erratic - his backhand, which the Scot targeted, also wilted under pressure - it was hard to understand his strategy. Under bombardment from Roddick's first serve it was often all Murray could do to chop back a defensive return, yet the American stood rooted to his baseline rather than attempting what should have been a straightforward volley.
Instead, Roddick would frequently charge forward after his next shot, usually a forehand played into the corners. Unless the stroke was played with sufficient power and precision - and even this was no guarantee against an opponent on such a high - it amounted to an invitation to be passed. Jimmy Connors is to start coaching Roddick in the near future and one of his first priorities will surely be to make sure he makes better use of his biggest assets.
Both players agreed that Saturday's match was of much higher quality than their only previous encounter, when Murray won in the semi-finals in San Jose in February on his way to his first senior ATP title.
Roddick had looked the more threatening player for much of the first set, but Murray, showing admirable willingness to attack when under pressure, saved all eight break points against him. As England were losing on penalties to Portugal in the World Cup, Murray was striking the ball with growing confidence to win his own shoot-out, taking the first set tie-break 7-4.
The turning point in the second set came as Murray served at 4-4 and 15-40 down. The first break point was saved with a smart forehand and the second with a wonderful inside-out forehand which even Roddick applauded. Murray eventually took the game with a glorious backhand down-the-line winner struck from behind the baseline and won the set in similar style a game later.
By now Murray was playing some wonderful tennis. Roddick had terrible trouble picking up the Scot's low sliced backhands, which spun and skidded viciously after biting the turf. Murray regularly pulled the American into the net by slowing the ball down or playing a drop shot before passing or lobbing him.
A loose game gave Roddick a break at 2-2 in the third set, but Murray struck back immediately. A double fault set up break point, which Murray audaciously converted by chipping and charging. Roddick was finally put out of his misery when he dropped his serve in the final game after Murray seemed to break his spirit with a wonderful first point, keeping the ball alive with some brilliant running before hitting a winning smash.
"It's tough when you hit an aggressive forehand deep to a corner and get beaten consistently from six to eight feet behind the baseline," Roddick said. "I can't say I didn't make him play on break points. Credit to him, he stepped up and pretty much went for broke on some forehands in the first set.
"His movement's good, but he's great at hitting on the move. Picking a ball up an inch off the ground, he can still find something to do with it without going for broke. There are guys who are faster, but there are also guys who are faster and freak out once they're on the run and try to do something kamikaze." Murray said he was "pretty chuffed" with his performance and agreed that he had risen to the occasion.
"I played a great match today," he said. "You don't get crowds as big as this cheering you on at any of the other tournaments throughout the year. I got a feel for it last year. It's really special."Reuse content