Patience rewarded with a thrilling late night of high drama
So that is how to get Andy Murray across the finishing line at Wimbledon. Threaten to turn out the lights. Welcome to the pleasure dome. This was tennis in the big top, a raucous night of thrills and spills a million miles from the strawberries and cream on which so much of Wimbledon's identity is built. What a change the roof has wrought, not only on the atmosphere on Centre Court, but on the performance of Murray.
It is an absurdity of English bureaucratic life that the players should be sprinting between points to beat the curfew imposed by the local residents in SW19; no fun after 11pm in leafy Merton. Health and safety. Murray won't mind. A match that he turned into a monumental struggle swung his way when the play went inside.
The Mexican wave is a tricky business in a frock but for Andy the gels were prepared to go for it, to risk trapping their tailored plumes in the posh seats as all hell broke loose. The audience had waited all day for this. They sat patiently through the anti-climax of what might be the last appearance on Centre Court of Andy Roddick, who lost in four and in the best of the weather to David Ferrer. Before that Serena Williams slugged her way past Zheng Jie, winning 9-7 in the third. But this was a different order of engagement; the main event on Saturday night, Murray's passage to the business end of the tournament.
Murray is every inch the 6ft 3in, 200 pounder, dimensions that would make him a super heavyweight at the coming Olympic boxing tournament, which is precisely the rating he is seeking in tennis. He has developed an impressive musculature. The bicep flex is not new. What we are looking for is the transference of that impressive physicality to the mental realm.
Marcos Baghdatis reached the Australian Open final in 2006 and the semis at Wimbledon, a run that included a fourth-round, straight-set schooling of 19-year-old Murray. Though a player of obvious talent he is seen more as a curiosity than a contender these days.
But as we saw with Lukas Rosol against Rafael Nadal, Centre Court has the power to inspire as well as enervate. Until the players left a darkening court with the match level at one set all Baghdatis was a live opponent, swinging like it was 2006 all over again. He engineered two break points in the seventh game that would have taken him to 5-3 and a chance to serve for the first set. He didn't take them but he was still the aggressor.
Up in the royal box the grandees of British sport looked down on the spectacle. Sir Bobby Charlton, England's cricket captain Andrew Strauss, Manchester United veteran and prospective Olympian Ryan Giggs, iron-willed champions who have learned how to harness nerves and doubt and channel them into productive performance under the cosh. Murray has the game of Italy or Spain yet sets up like Roy Hodgson's England, narrow, risk-averse and passive.
When he chooses to flick the switch the gear change is impressive, evidenced by the fury with which he served out the first set. At 2-1 ahead with a break in the second, the platform was there but Murray's confidence collapsed allowing Baghdatis to come raging back into the match. The break worked for Murray on this occasion. The light faded in Baghdatis as well as the sky. Next time Murray might not be so lucky.
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