Andy Murray has always insisted that he can cope with the weight of expectation on his shoulders and as he prepared yesterday for the biggest match of his Wimbledon career there were no signs that the Scot's composure would crack. After a last practice session before his semi-final here today against Andy Roddick, the main message Murray had for his fans concerned the game of tennis football he had just played with, among others, Ross Hutchins, his Davis Cup colleague.
"Just finished hitting," Murray said on his Twitter feed. "On way to ice bath. Can't wait. Ross was awful at footie today."
While Murray has already played in one Grand Slam final, having lost to Roger Federer at last year's US Open, today will be the biggest match of his life in terms of national interest. At stake is a place in Sunday's final against Roger Federer or Tommy Haas, with the former the clear favourite. Murray against Federer would be the ultimate dream final, with the Scot aiming to become the first Briton to win here since Fred Perry in 1936 and Federer hoping to eclipse Pete Sampras's all-time record of 14 Grand Slam titles.
If Murray wins today he would be the first Briton since Bunny Austin in 1938 to reach the final here. He is only the fourth player from these shores to play in a Wimbledon semi-final since then, following Mike Sangster in 1961, Roger Taylor in 1967, 1970 and 1973 and Tim Henman on four occasions between 1998 and 2002.
Murray said he was impressed that the TV audience for his quarter-final match against Stanislas Wawrinka had peaked at nearly 12 million, but that the level of interest had not quite sunk in yet. He added that he was impressed with the support he had received despite fears that Wimbledon has not entirely taken him to its heart. "I'm just trying to stay away from everything that has been going on off the court," he said. "The support I have had so far has been awesome and, hopefully, that will continue."
The world No 3 will go into today's match believing he can win. "If you want to get to the top of your sport, you have got to think you can win against the best players in the world, regardless of where you are ranked and how old you are and your experience," he said. "It might not happen, but I think it is always good to go in with the right attitude."
He added: "I never went on against anyone thinking I couldn't win against them. You don't necessarily know the best way to play against them until you have come up against the best players, but every time I have played against Federer I have felt like I have had a chance to beat him. I understand I have to play great against him to win against him, but I never thought it was the right attitude to go into a match not thinking you have got a chance."
Murray said he was not thinking about the possibility of doing better than one of his heroes, Henman, who lost all four of his semi-finals. "For me it's not about what Tim did. I'm trying to do something I've never done before. Obviously, making the semis is very good, but now I am going to try and go one step further. It's going to be a tough match against Roddick. But making the final of a Grand Slam, whether it's Wimbledon or any of the other ones, is a great achievement."
Roddick has lost six of his eight matches against Murray, including the last three and their only meeting at a Grand Slam event, in the third round here three years ago. However, the American has improved his fitness this year, went further in the French Open than he had ever gone before and is through to the semi-finals here for the first time since 2005, when he lost to Federer in the final for the second year in a row.
The match could be decided by the quality of Roddick's serves and Murray's returns. The American shares the record for the fastest serve here this year (141mph compared with Murray's best of 133mph) and is second to Ivo Karlovic on the aces leader board, having hit 139 compared with Murray's 73. "With my serve, I can give myself a chance in any match," Roddick said.
Murray, meanwhile, has underlined his reputation as one of the best returners in the game, winning 32 per cent of the points on his opponents' first serve, the best of anyone left in the tournament. Roddick has won 25 per cent and Federer 29 per cent.
Does Murray believe those respective strengths will decide the outcome? "You could say that, but also a lot of it will come down to how I serve and he returns, because I don't want to give him any opportunities to go a break up, because that is when he plays his best tennis, when he is ahead. Likewise he is going to have to return well to break me because I have been serving well.
"I have played well against him, but the thing about playing him is that it's tough. It can come down to a few points and how you play them kind of determines how the match will go. He's a very tough guy to beat."
Roddick will give Murray full respect. "Andy has been playing great," he said. "He's certainly come into his own as a player. He doesn't really have weaknesses. He's improved his serve a lot. He returns well.
"I think this tournament did wonders for him last year. I think everyone thought it was just going to be a matter of time with him. He's certainly capable of hitting all the shots. It's just a matter of being able to do it day after day now. There's a certain comfort level where you go out there and it's like second nature. I think he's acquired that since last year here."
Hewitt, beaten by Roddick in the quarter-finals, said the American would have to play "one hell of a match" to win. "When I've seen Andy Murray at his best, I think he matches up extremely well against Roddick," Hewitt said. "A couple of years ago I saw them play here and Murray took care of him convincingly. Murray's a lot better player now than he was then."