Andy Murray will be the last person to look beyond his third-round meeting with Marcos Baghdatis here this afternoon, but at least his supporters can dream. Rafael Nadal, who beat the Scot in the semi-finals at the last two Wimbledons and was seeded to meet him at the same stage next week, lost on Thursday night to Lukas Rosol. Milos Raonic, the big-serving Canadian who could have met Murray in the fourth round, was beaten yesterday by Sam Querrey.
After so many tournaments when his hopes of becoming Britain's first Grand Slam singles champion for three quarters of a century have been ended by one of the big guns, might this be Murray's year at last?
The Scot himself will not be letting any such thoughts cloud his thinking. Asked whether Nadal's defeat might have opened up the draw for him, the Scot replied: "It's completely irrelevant to me unless I reach the semi-finals. I have a guy who's been in a Grand Slam final in my next match, so that's the focus for me."
Murray prepared to face Baghdatis, who was runner-up at the 2006 Australian Open, with a practice session at Aorangi Park. Oliver Golding, the US Open boys' champion, was on the other side of the net, while Ivan Lendl, Murray's coach, Dani Vallverdu, his hitting partner and friend, and Leon Smith, Britain's Davis Cup captain, watched from the sidelines, along with the world No 4's mother, Judy, and one of his young cousins, nine-year-old, Cora Erskine. The relaxed mood in the camp was clear to see.
Baghdatis, who is quick around the court and hits the ball with impressive power, beat Murray in their only previous Wimbledon meeting six years ago, but the 27-year-old Cypriot is not the force he was. He has not won a tournament for two and a half years.
One potential advantage for the world No 42 is the fact that his coach, Miles Maclagan, was the central figure in his opponent's entourage until they parted company two summers ago, shortly after Murray had lost to Nadal in his second Wimbledon semi-final. Maclagan had also helped guide Murray to his first semi-final here, against Andy Roddick, the previous year.
"It's got to be a help, although it's two years since I've been at the heart of it," Maclagan said yesterday. "Things will have changed in that time. But I know how he reacts to certain things, and things that make him less comfortable. Andy is a great player so Marcos has to come out and play really well, but the pressure is all on Andy. Rosol showed that to beat these top guys you can't go out there and just play a decent match. You need to play in a style that is going to topple them."
He added: "Having been alongside Andy, I know what the pressures are on him. Everyone is focused upon him, but he handles it well. I know from having been there that there's this massive expectation on him to win. The questions keep coming about when he is going to win a Slam. With Nadal out, there will be a lot of the public who think he is just going to cruise to the final, which of course is just not the case, regardless of what happens tomorrow."
As for his present relationship with Murray, Maclagan said: "We still get on well and I'm good friends with the guys in his camp. We had two and a half good years together and in this job that is a reasonable amount of time. When I left maybe it was a question of him needing to freshen things up a bit, which happens. We parted on good terms. I've played a few rounds of golf with Lendl here. That's actually been a bit of a highlight of my summer. He was a bit of a hero of mine growing up."
Murray does not believe that Maclagan's experience of working with him will be a significant factor. "I will be doing things Marcos might not be expecting," Murray said. "I'm sure Miles will have some tactics for Marcos to try and use against me in the match.
"He will have made sure Marcos has worked hard and is in good shape, because that was what I got out of him when we worked together. From a coach's point of view it's easy to say 'try this' or 'try that' but it's a whole different story when you're on court."
Murray has beaten Baghdatis twice since Maclagan started working with the Cypriot and said his defeat to him here in 2006 felt a long time ago. "I feel like I'm a much better player as I didn't handle things as well as I do now," he said. "At that time Marcos was close to being a top 10 player and was a Grand Slam finalist. He was playing his best tennis at that time."
The Scot said he had been pleased with the way he had concentrated on his task in his first two matches here against Nikolay Davydenko and Ivo Karlovic. "Some days it's easier than others, but so far it's been a good start and I've been very focused throughout," he said. "I got off to a bad start against Karlovic and after being 40-0 up I got broken. To break straight back was pleasing. Mentally so far it's been good and I need to keep it up."
Maclagan said Baghdatis's chances were "definitely slim" but added: "What happened [on Thursday] night has probably made a lot of guys in the locker room sit up. The top guys will be thinking: 'Wow, we can be beaten'. And the other players think: 'We can beat the top guys'. You claw every bit of hope you can."
Possible route to the final:
Third round Marcos Baghdatis (Cyp)
Fourth round Marin Cilic (Croa)
Quarter-final David Ferrer (Sp)
Semi-final Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Fr)
Final Novak Djokovic (Serb)
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