Five down, two to go. Andy Murray moved to within two victories of realising his greatest ambition here yesterday when he swept into his third successive Wimbledon semi-final with another performance of great authority. The 24-year-old Scot needed just two hours to brush aside the challenge of Feliciano Lopez, winning 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in a match he controlled from start to finish.
"Deliciano", as Murray's mother calls the good-looking Spaniard, was never a match for her son, who is now through to his seventh Grand Slam semi-final, one more than Tim Henman. His next opponent will be another Spanish left-hander, but one he will treat with the utmost respect as he attempts to become the first Briton to win the men's singles title here for 75 years. Rafael Nadal has ended Murray's Wimbledon run twice in the last three years, beating him in straight sets on both occasions.
Murray has been growing in stature with every round this year and although Lopez did not offer as big a threat as Ivan Ljubicic or Richard Gasquet, he still had to be put away. The 29-year-old Spaniard looked weary from his earlier exertions, though that had as much to do with Murray's excellence. From early in the match Lopez was looking in despair at his entourage, unable to work out how to find a way past his opponent.
Lopez has one of the best serves in the game and went into the match having hit 100 aces in the first four rounds, more than any other player in the tournament. He excels on fast surfaces, which make his big serve particularly hard to return, and loves playing on grass. This was his third appearance in a Wimbledon quarter-final, yet he has never gone as far in any of the other three Grand Slam tournaments.
Being a left-hander is always of benefit against a right-hander, who can be forced out wide on his backhand in the advantage court, but in Murray the Spaniard was facing arguably the best returner in the world game. The Scot has won a higher percentage of points this year when returning first serve than any other player on the men's tour.
Some of Murray's returns were sensational. Lopez, having averaged 25 aces in each of his previous matches, hit only seven as Murray kept reading where the Spaniard was going to place his serves. Even when he was not hitting winners the quality of the world No 4's returns kept forcing Lopez into mistakes and the Spaniard missed a number of routine volleys.
Murray's own first serve can be a major weapon, but if the Scot has a weakness it can be his second serve, which some opponents have targeted to good effect. Lopez, however, rarely got to grips with it. Given Murray's athleticism and phenomenal speed around the court, the Spaniard's best chance was to go for his shots and get into the net, but he rarely had the chance to come forward.
Knowing the potency of Murray's passing shots, Lopez knew his approaches had to be of the highest quality, but the Scot rarely offered him a short ball to attack. Murray won 85 per cent of points on his first serve and 65 per cent on his second serve, an excellent strike rate in anyone's books.
Centre Court was still alive with the excitement of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's thrilling comeback victory over Roger Federer when the two men entered the arena just before 5pm in warm sunshine. The crowd featured two men who know a thing or two about winning majors in Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, though the cameramen seemed more interested in the presence of Pippa Middleton.
The conditions were perfect and Murray was immediately into his stride, hitting two aces in a row to hold his opening service game to love. While Murray was holding his serve with plenty to spare, Lopez struggled from the start. In the sixth game he saved a first break point with a courageous 121mph second serve, but Murray was not to be denied and went into a 4-2 lead when the world No 44 put an attempted drop shot into the net. Two games later Lopez held serve after saving three break points, but Murray went on to close out the first set after 41 minutes when the Spaniard missed a forehand.
In the second set Lopez held on until the fifth game, when the Spaniard's spirit appeared to be broken by some wonderful defence from Murray. At 15-15 the Scot retrieved what looked to be a certain winner and put up a testing lob, which forced Lopez into an error on the smash. A rasping backhand cross-court return created two break points, the second of which was converted when Lopez put another straightforward volley into the net. Murray promptly served out to take a two-set lead.
It took the sight of the Scot being in momentary physical trouble to inspire Lopez into his best spell of the match, albeit a brief one at the start of the third set. As Murray changed direction after hitting a backhand the world No 4 appeared to hurt his hip and looked in some discomfort thereafter. Lopez had his chances after getting to deuce when Murray served at 1-2, but the Scot gritted his teeth and held on.
It was not long before Murray had re-established his authority. At 2-2 he broke again after two splendid points from 30-30. A forehand pass down the line created his 10th break point of the match, which he converted immediately. Lopez served wide to the backhand, hit a tentative volley from Murray's stinging return and could only watch as his opponent raced back to the centre of the court to crash a winning forehand pass.
When Murray served at 4-3 Lopez finally created his only two break points of the match as the Scot put a volley in the net. Murray saved them both with service winners and went on to serve out for victory in the most emphatic fashion with three successive aces. Tougher challenges are ahead, but the Scot could hardly have reached the last four in more emphatic style.
Key moments: How the B ritish no 1 strolled into the semis
1 The royal box is sparsely populated as Murray begins in a hurry. His 50th ace of the tournament gives him the opening game – a sign of things to come?
2 Game six and Murray breaks thanks to an unforced error from Lopez. In the stands Lewis Hamilton grins. Simon Fuller, manager of both Britons, looks content.
3 41 minutes on the clock and Murray takes the set. Acontented hubbub rolls around the Centre Court. "Routine," says a satisfied Tim Henman.
4 Second set never looks like going any way but Murray's. So comfortable is it that Boris Becker takes time off to admire Pippa Middleton's red dress.
5 Early in the third, Murray slips and clutches his side. But it doesn't seem to inconvenience him and in the fifth game he breaks the Spaniard. Victory in sight.
6 It finishes as it began. A thundering ace wraps up the win and a place in the semi-finals for the third year in a row. Job done – it all took a minute over two hours.