Murray returns to the peak of his game – could this be his year?
Bandwagon begins to gather pace as Scot reaches last eight without dropping a set
The Andy Murray bandwagon is gathering pace. Sam Querrey, a 6ft 6in man mountain of an opponent, was the latest obstacle to stand in the Scot's path, but Murray negotiated his way past the American here last night with an assurance that suggests all the doubts of the last four months are fading fast.
In beating Querrey 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 Murray won his fourth match in a row for the first time since the Australian Open. The Scot, who next plays France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, is through to the quarter-finals here for the third year in succession and is the only player left in the men's singles who has yet to drop a set.
An appreciative Centre Court crowd lapped up a display as bright as the late afternoon sunshine. If Murray did not find the same rhythm on his serve as he had in his three wins last week, almost every other aspect of his game appeared to be in perfect order. By the end of the third set, as he fed off the crowd's increasingly enthusiastic support, the world No 4 was playing his best tennis since the start of the year.
Just as he had against Gilles Simon two days earlier, Murray played better and better as his opponent raised his own level. By the end of the match he was hitting sumptuous winners from all corners of the court.
England's exit from the World Cup in South Africa has inevitably made Murray the new focus of the nation's sporting aspirations, but he thrives on such attention, especially here at the All England Club. "Playing at home in all sports is just a huge, huge advantage," Murray said after his victory. "People talk a lot about the pressure and expectation of playing at Wimbledon, but you have that home support, which for me anyway made a huge difference to the way I played. It makes you feel comfortable on the court."
Querrey, the world No 21, had only ever won one match in his three previous visits to Wimbledon but had established his grass-court credentials by winning the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club a fortnight ago. At more than 14st, he is a heavyweight opponent, as he demonstrated in a locker room in Bangkok last year. A glass table shattered when he sat on it and the subsequent surgery on his forearm led to his missing the rest of the season.
Given his size, it is no surprise that Querrey's serve is one of his biggest weapons. In Murray, nevertheless, he was facing one of the best returners in the game and the Scot made regular inroads into the 22-year-old Californian's service games. A greater problem for Murray was his own serve, which had been a big factor in his first three victories. Here he struggled to find the same consistency, putting only 46 per cent of his first serves in court, though Querrey was unable to take full advantage.
Murray had to save two break points in the opening game, but it was the Scot who drew first blood to lead 3-1, when the American put what should have been a routine volley into the net.
Serving at 5-4 and 40-15, Murray had the first set at his mercy, only to lose his concentration at a crucial moment. Having set himself up to put away the simplest of forehand winners, he hit the ball long. The miss clearly unsettled the Scot, who promptly double-faulted, netted a forehand on his third set point and was eventually broken under attack from the Querrey forehand. It was the first time Murray had dropped his serve since the first set of his opening match.
When the world No 4 went 0-40 down in his next service game the alarm bells were starting to ring, but forehand and backhand winners, followed by a glaring miss by Querrey on his forehand, averted the mini-crisis. In the following game Murray created his fourth set point with a forehand winner, which he converted when Querrey, going for broke, hit a forehand long.
Murray served out for the second set after breaking in the fourth game. In the third set Querrey held on until the ninth game, which produced the best tennis of the match as Murray raised his level to hit some superb winners. At deuce the Scot demonstrated sensational reactions to hit a volley beyond Querrey's reach and followed it up with a lovely forehand cross-court winner. In the following game Murray's ninth and 10th aces took him to match point, after which Querrey put a forehand beyond the baseline.
Tsonga, Murray's next opponent, reached the quarter-finals here for the first time when he beat his fellow Frenchman, Julien Benneteau, 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. The world No 10 beat Murray in the first round of the Australian Open two years ago, but the Scot won their latest meeting in Montreal last summer.
"In the next round I'm sure there are going to be some tough moments," Murray said. "I have to keep going for my shots, keep serving well and keep running."
Does Murray feel he is back to playing his best tennis? "I'm playing really well, but you have to wait until the end of the tournament to see how well you've actually been playing. I need to make sure that I up my game when the matches get tougher and in the tight situations. It's important that I continue to play well and don't slip up."
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