Murray approaches top gear as he sets up rematch with Gasquet
British No 1 reprises through-the-legs half-volley winner under the Centre Court roof
Saturday 25 June 2011
The rain keeps falling but Andy Murray's stock keeps rising.
The 24-year-old Scot played under the Centre Court roof here last night for the second time in the tournament and after a highly entertaining match of rapidly fluctuating fortunes became the first of the big four favourites to reach the second week.
While Rafael Nadal, the defending champion, was among those left frustrated by another damp end to the day at the All England Club, Murray booked his place in the fourth round by beating Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6. It is the fifth year in a row that Murray has successfully negotiated the first three rounds here and on Monday he will cross swords again with Richard Gasquet, the Frenchman he beat with a thrilling back-from-the-dead victory at the same stage here three years ago.
While the vast majority of competitors have never played under the Centre Court roof, this was Murray's third taste of the conditions. With variable weather predicted in the coming days, that could be an important factor, as is the fact that Murray, unlike many of his rivals, has completed all three of his opening matches on schedule.
For Ljubicic it was a new experience on two counts. Not only was it the first time he had played under the roof but it was also his first appearance on Centre Court on his 12th visit. The 32-year-old Croatian, who was the oldest man left in the tournament, has never progressed beyond the third round here, which is a surprise given his game.
The world No 33 has a big serve, is not afraid to come into the net and moves surprisingly well considering his 6ft 4in frame. The Croatian, who had won three of his six previous matches against Murray, also has one of the most powerful single-handed backhands in the business.
Given the higher quality of the opponent, this was a significant step up from Murray's two previous performances. If there were passages of play when Ljubicic's excellent hitting knocked Murray out of his rhythm, at other times the Scot was at his sumptuous best.
In the closing stages in particular he hit some glorious passing shots, relishing the opportunity to take on Ljubicic as the Croatian tried to shorten the points by attacking the net. In the final set he even produced a reprise of the extraordinary through-the-legs half-volley winner (right) he first showcased at Queen's Club a fortnight ago.
"It was just in the right position," Murray said afterwards. "I tried it at Queen's and a couple of times in practice and I haven't missed one yet. You look like a plonker when you do so I'm glad I made it."
In the humid conditions both men had plenty of success on their first serves but both struggled on the second as the heavier balls made it easier for the returner to attack.
The tone for a match of regular momentum swings was set at the beginning. Having hit six aces in his first three service games and forced four break points when Ljubicic served at 2-3, Murray seemed in complete control, only to play a ragged game and give the Croatian the first break. It was to the Scot's good fortune that Ljubicic followed up with an even worse service game, including two double faults, as Murray levelled at 4-4.
Two games later he broke again after two moments of Murray magic, an exquisite lobbed volley followed by a smash and then a heavily-spun lob followed by a forehand winner. Murray, pumping himself up, closed out the set with a big forehand after patiently manoeuvring himself into a winning position.
However, the Scot has had a tendency to follow breaks of serve with a sloppy service game of his own and he did so again at the start of the second set, two double faults helping to let his opponent back into the match as Ljubicic served out for the set.
No sooner had Ljubicic stolen the momentum than Murray ripped it from his grasp again. The Scot, upping his game, took the third set in just 29 minutes after racing into a 5-0 lead as Ljubicic's level dipped sharply.
By the start of the fourth set Murray was playing superbly. Backhand and forehand winners flashed down the line and cross-court, though the pick of his shots – bar the showboating winner through the legs – was another lob. A Ljubicic mishit landed on Murray's baseline, but the Scot responded with a delightful forehand lob that the Croatian did not even bother to chase.
When Murray broke to lead 4-2, Ljubicic netting a volley as he attempted to cut off a crashing forehand down the line, it seemed that the end would be swift, but an enthralling high-quality contest had one final twist in the tail. Murray served for the match at 5-4, but Ljubicic went for broke on his returns and levelled the set at 5-5.
Ljubicic took a 3-2 lead in the tie-break but from that point onwards Murray played a canny game. Two unreturned serves took him into a 4-3 lead and on the next two points he cleverly played himself into a position of strength before enticing Ljubicic into errors. The Croatian saved the first match point with a big forehand return, but on the second Murray followed up a big serve with a winning forehand.
Murray's route to the final
4th round: Richard Gasquet (France, aged 25, world No 13)
Maintained fine run of form with straight-sets win over Simone Bolelli. Lost to Murray here in 2008 and in Paris last year after squandering two-set leads.
Quarter-finals: Gaël Monfils (France, aged 24, world No 8)
Was tied at one set apiece with Lukasz Kubot when play was called off last night. Superb athlete but has never gone beyond third round at Wimbledon.
Semi-finals: Rafael Nadal (Spain, aged 25, world No 1)
Took first set against Gilles Muller last night before rain fell but appeared in discomfort after a fall. Has beaten Murray twice here without losing a set.
Final: Roger Federer (Switzerland, aged 29, world No 3)
Faces an old rival, David Nalbandian, in third round today. Seedings say Djokovic should win semi-final against Federer but the Swiss has won title six times.
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