Even in this tournament which may yet be remembered for the bonfire of the certainties – as in Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and now Serena Williams – the brief convulsion of Andy Murray threatened to claim new levels of improbability.
It provoked the bizarre possibility of the fall of a great player more sudden, more dramatic than anything yielded by these last few days, which have shaken the foundations of tennis’s highest ground.
This was because Murray, unlike the fallen trio of multiple champions, had given no hint that he too might be heading towards the game’s version of the Bermuda Triangle in SW19. Indeed it was precisely the opposite because his crisis came immediately after the shot of this tournament and no doubt many others.
Indeed, the cross-court forehand passing shot which left the Muscovite veteran Mikhail Youzhny shaking his head in bewilderment incited some claims that it may have been the best shot seen here since Federer produced his unforgettable backhand down the line at a pivotal stage of his 2008 losing final with Nadal.
It broke the son of a Russian army colonel father and an economist mother with its force – it might have come from a howitzer – and the brilliance of his conception. It said that the reigning US Open champion and Olympic gold medallist was maybe at last stepping beyond the pressure of trying to prove here that if he had born with great talent it wasn’t necessarily at the wrong time.
Federer, Nadal, and the vibrant Novak Djokovic would have been proud to claim authorship of such a shot. It had his mother Judy leaping from her seat in jubilation and it even brought a wisp of a smile to the flinty countenance of his coach Ivan Lendl.
Yet what did it deliver? Simply full-blown crisis, the possibility that Djokovic might be the last great player standing in a tournament which has not so much whittled down as demolished his peers.
Having cruised through the first set, Murray broke the 31-year-old, 28th -ranked Youzhny in the third game of the second. It could not have a more withering statement about the class barrier that was thrown up the moment Djokovic and Murray joined Federer and Nadal in a league of their own – and arguably the most gilded ever seen in the history of the game. Murray had only to attend to the details of the demolition.
Instead, he entered a vortex as shocking as the ones inhabited by Nadal, Federer and on Monday, at the hands of the superbly committed German grass-court specialist Sabine Lisicki, Serena, the owner of 16 Grand Slam titles.
Lendl’s face was a mask as grim as any he wore in his distinguished but frequently frustrating playing career. The wider Murray contingent were as stunned as the legion of new Laura Robson fans who had earlier seen their somewhat hysterically imposed young heroine facing some harsh realities on Court One from her relatively unheralded opponent Kaia Kanepi.
Murray crashed and burned to 5-2 down. Youzhny, the old battler, conjured some shots of impressive quality and, almost unbelievably he broke Murray once, then twice. The Russian led the set and another one of those over-cooked Wimbledon fantasies was turning into a crisp.
However, there was something we should not have forgotten for a moment, however arresting the circumstances. Murray long since ceased to be a fantasy. He is a player of nerve and fine judgement and quite remarkable skill and if his sudden collapse was quite stunning, even in this Wimbledon shooting gallery, his recovery was no less astonishing.
He produced a passing shot on the run which defied time and geometry and told Youzhny, as emphatically as any shell launched by his father’s regiment, that the break-out was over. Murray won it in three sets, finishing on a tide of confidence and the most finely calculated work.
It was though the bad thing hadn’t really happened, it was just some bizarre and malevolent illusion. That, certainly, was the meaning of Murray’s final statement. It was one of the hungriest conviction. Repeatedly he punched the air after shots of the most exquisite tracery and as they cut away to nothing the hopes of Youzhny they also reminded us that Wimbledon opinion does have a duty to step back from time to time and consider quite how random it draws the line between silly, patriotic day-dreaming and the reality of a fully-blown master tennis player like Murray.
It may be that Laura Robson will emerge as a serious contender at the top levels but nothing in her performances here justified the kind of ordeal imposed upon her by her squealing, cheering fans.
After losing to her Estonian opponent, Robson said it was great that a lot of young women and girls had come to see her play. “You know,” she said, “I was hearing that people started to queue on Saturday. That’s unbelievable support, and I was happy they came to give their support. When I was young I was just watching everyone, learning as much as I could. Yeah, it was just basic stuff.”
If there was a lesson in Robson-Kanepi, it was that great players are not created by the yearnings of a crowd in search of a new hero or heroine. They come about by the application of great talent over a number of years – and a hunger to do everything it takes to win a place in the highest levels of competition.
In all the labour sometimes something magical happens and a great leap is made. That is the challenge facing Laura Robson.
It is one conquered some time ago by her fellow British No 1 Andy Murray. On Monday he merely announced that he was proofed against the worst of the fates conjured by this extraordinary tournament.
He found himself in an extremely menacing place. Then he remembered that he was indeed a great player. The result was nothing less than a bombardment of evidence. We can only hope that it holds good for just a few more days.Reuse content