A monarch-to-be joined two Kings in the Royal Box here yesterday but this was a day when Centre Court belonged to a pretender to another throne. Seventy-five years after the last coronation of a British male singles champion at the All England Club, Andy Murray made the most significant statement yet in his quest to follow in the footsteps of Fred Perry.
The Duke of Cambridge, who was accompanied by the Duchess on what St James's Palace mysteriously described as a "private" visit, Billie Jean King and Sir Mervyn King – the three are not thought to be related – were among those who watched as Murray swept aside Richard Gasquet to reach the quarter-finals for the fourth year in succession. Murray, who won 7-6, 6-3, 6-2, has beaten higher-ranked opponents here before but rarely has he won a match on these courts with such authority.
Given the ultimate disappointments of his last three visits to the All England Club – two straight-sets defeats to Rafael Nadal and a four-set loss to Andy Roddick in a match which he let slip from his grasp – there can be no definitive judgement yet on the 24-year-old Scot, but this was a hugely impressive performance.
Even during a first set in which he struggled to adjust to the hot and steamy conditions, Murray always looked in command of his destiny. About the only thing he got wrong all day was failing to shave in the morning given the presence of the royal couple, whom he met afterwards.
"If I'd known they were coming, I would have shaved," Murray smiled. "I was thinking to myself as I came off that I was sweaty and very hairy. I said to them: 'I'm sorry, I'm a bit sweaty'. Those things are always quite difficult for me because there are a lot of people around, so it's not the most natural way to be introduced to people. But it was very nice to get to meet them."
Murray joked that his facial hair was "starting to get more manly now", but there can be no doubt that his tennis has come of age. The world No 4 served well, struck his ground strokes with conviction and found the perfect balance between defence and attack. Above all, he played with the assurance and self-belief of a man who gives the impression that he believes his time has come at last.
Gasquet may not be quite the force he was – the former world No 7 has been rebuilding his career ever since serving a two-month ban following a positive drugs test for cocaine two years ago – but the 25-year-old Frenchman is still a wonderfully talented player and had been playing with much of his old panache in recent weeks. Only Roger Federer has a more exquisite one-handed backhand than Gasquet, who is a proven performer on grass and had stretched Murray to the limit in their previous encounters.
The current world No 13's two defeats in his four meetings with Murray both came after the Scot came back from two sets down, here three years ago and at last year's French Open. The early exchanges may have given him some encouragement that he might make a similarly good start. Gasquet had the only break point of the first set, which Murray saved in his opening service game, and dropped just five points on his own serve before the tie-break.
Murray normally has one of the best returns of serve in the business, but here he took time to find his rhythm. That was largely down to the conditions. This was Murray's first experience of the sun at this Wimbledon, the Scot having played two of his previous matches under the Centre Court roof and the third under an overcast sky on Court One. With the sun burning brightly and the temperature rising before cloud cover brought some welcome relief, it was quite a difference compared with what Murray had previously experienced.
Everything changed in the tie-break, in which Murray was never behind. When Gasquet served at 3-4 Murray played a point that typified the intelligence of his play. Having pegged the Frenchman back with some beautifully judged backhand slices, he suddenly upped the pace with a driven double-handed backhand that forced Gasquet into a mistake. A Gasquet mis-hit and an overhead winner by Murray completed the job as the Scot took the tie-break 7-3.
For all his elegance and shot-making ability, Gasquet is a player whose spirit can all too easily be broken and the contest effectively finished when he dropped serve in the eighth game of the second set. From 40-30 up he served a double fault, watched in vain as Murray cracked a superb cross-court backhand winner and then hit a backhand long, to a roar of approval from the crowd.
After serving out for the second set Murray broke again at 2-2 in the third with two splendid forehand cross-court winners. The first was flicked beyond Gasquet's reach with the touch of a brain surgeon and the second was hammered past him with the power of a wrecking ball.
By now Murray was in full flow and Gasquet looked a forlorn figure as the Scot bamboozled him with drop shots, running passes and thumping serves. The Frenchman dropped serve again when he missed a smash, Murray having kept the point going with some remarkable defence, and the Scot served out for victory in the next game with his 14th ace.
After acknowledging the crowd's rapturous applause, Murray turned to the Royal Box, bowed and then smiled and waved at the Duke and Duchess. At this rate it would be no surprise if more royalty headed for SW19 in the days ahead, when Murray is likely to be better prepared.
"I might shave tonight," Murray said. "I've been told to shave by a few people in the last five or six days, and I just haven't got round to it. It's at the length now where it actually hurts a little bit, so I always put it off a wee bit till I have a bit of time."
Murray's (probable) route to the final
Quarter-finals: Feliciano Lopez (Spain, aged 29, world No 44)
Came back from two sets down to beat Lukasz Kubot, having knocked out Andy Roddick. The big-serving left-hander is in his third Wimbledon quarter-final, the previous one being three years ago.
Semi-finals: Rafael Nadal (Spain, aged 25, world No 1)
Overcame ankle injury to beat Juan Martin del Potro in four sets. The defending champion has beaten Murray twice here in the last three years – without losing a set.
Final: Roger Federer (Switzerland, aged 29, world No 3)
Lost first set against Mikhail Youzhny but eventually won in style. Seedings say Djokovic should win a semi-final against Federer but the Swiss has won title six times.
Pick of today's matches
* S Lisicki v M Bartoli
German Lisicki charmed us with her tears of joy after beating Li Na but faces a stern test as she seeks to make the last four of a Slam for the first time.
* D Cibulkova v M Sharapova
Sharapova is the only quarter-finalist to have experience of winning a Grand Slam and will be favoured to beat her 22-year-old Slovakian opponent.
* P Kvitova v T Pironkova
Probably the toughest of the last eight to call, with neither having dropped a set. Kvitova was in fine form yesterday, but Pironkova has seen off Venus Williams and second seed Vera Zvonareva.Reuse content