Wimbledon's retractable roof was deployed for the first time here last night, only for Andy Murray to do his best to raise it. The 22-year-old Scot took his place in the quarter-finals, equalling his best performance at the All England Club, when he beat Stanislas Wawrinka 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 on an evening of high drama on Centre Court.
It was nearly pitch-black outside when Murray struck his winning forehand at 10.38pm, but Henman Hill was still packed and the artificial lighting that has been installed along with the roof enabled Wimbledon to stage the latest finish in its 132-year history.
Over the years the BBC has grown accustomed to accommodating unexpectedly late finishes, but this was something else. As Murray and Wawrinka fought toe to toe for three hours and 57 minutes, The One Show, Dom's On The Case, EastEnders, Panorama, Crimewatch, News at Ten and Crimewatch Update all had to make way.
It was a roller coaster of a match. Murray was caught cold by Wawrinka's flying start, appeared to have taken control when he won the second and third sets, let the fourth slip from his grasp, but kept his nerve during a final set of rapidly changing fortunes. He now plays Juan Carlos Ferrero, having beaten the Spaniard in straight sets at Queen's Club three weeks ago.
Murray said the roof had had a big effect. Not only had it generated the greatest noise he had experienced at a match, but he said the air was very humid and had made the balls much heavier, meaning it was harder both to serve and to put away winning shots.
Given the time of night, the extra noise generated by the roof and the historic occasion, it even outdid the drama of Murray's back-from-the-dead victory over Richard Gasquet 12 months ago as the Scot showed admirable mental strength to close out the victory.
Although Murray did not serve as well as he did last week and made many errors, there was still much to admire. The world No 3's speed around the court was extraordinary as he repeatedly retrieved apparently lost causes. Wawrinka tried a number of drop shots, only to see Murray chase them down and, more often than not, hit crashing winners.
Given that Murray has won seven of his 12 titles indoors, it may not have been to the Scot's disadvantage to take part in the first Wimbledon match to be played in its entirety under the new roof, which had been pulled across midway through the previous contest, between Dinara Safina and Amélie Mauresmo, during a brief rain shower.
It was decided to keep the court covered because of the weather and the late start (the match began at 6.41pm), but by then the skies had largely cleared and bright sunlight shone through the canvas cover until darkness fell. Keeping the roof closed seemed a curious decision, given Wimbledon's insistence that this would remain an outdoor tournament whenever possible, though it did ensure the match was played to a conclusion. Wawrinka was involved in the previous latest finish here, having lost to Mario Ancic at 9.49pm three years ago.
Murray was unhappy the players had not been told they would be playing under the roof until a few minutes before the start. "It's tough as a player when you're warming up, getting ready for the match outside and it's dry and then you're told you're playing under the roof," he said. " The decision should be made before the previous match is finished so they can let the players know in a decent amount of time what conditions they're going to be playing under."
Wawrinka found his stride immediately, hitting his backhand with enormous power and attacking anything short. Murray looked tentative. At first it was his forehand that let him down, but soon his backhand, arguably the best in the game, also started to falter. The Swiss went 4-0 up and served out for the set when Murray stabbed a poor volley beyond the baseline. The first turning point came at 2-2 in the second set, when Murray fought back from 15-40 down to hold serve and started to pump up himself and the crowd with regular cries of "C'mon!"
His game picking up, Murray created break point at 4-3 in the second set with one of his specialities, a low skidding backhand that spun away from Wawrinka's forehand, and converted it when the Swiss put a backhand out. The Scot served out for the set and then took the third after breaking in the seventh game.
It seemed that the pendulum had definitively swung Murray's way, but Wawrinka dug in. At 3-4 in the fourth set Murray had a break point, but dumped a poor forehand in the net. At 4-4 it was Murray's turn to save a break point, but from deuce two games later he put two backhands i *the net to give Wawrinka the decisive break.
Murray raced into a 3-0 lead in the decider, only to have the Centre Court crowd groaning in despair as Wawrinka fought back to 3-3. At 3-4 Wawrinka saved two break points, but on the third Murray hit a forehand winner. On his first match point in the next game Murray drove the ball beyond Wawrinka's reach into the corner and sank to the turf, overcome by the emotion. Heaven help him if he wins his next three matches to become the first British man to win here for 73 years.
The first of those will come tomorrow when Murray faces a clay-court specialist who needed a wild card to play here. Ferrero, nevertheless, is having the grass-court season of his life. The former French Open champion reached the semi-finals at Queen's Club earlier this month and in beating the injury-stricken Gilles Simon reached the quarter-finals here for only the second time in eight attempts.Reuse content