After a week which was better suited to raining champions than reigning champions, the All England Club was bathed in glorious sunshine yesterday. The players enjoyed a rare full day without interruptions and, for once, the Centre Court roof stayed open. Those spectators who spent hours shivering and sheltering from the rain last week must have been cursing their luck.
Middle Sunday at Wimbledon, which is the last of the Grand Slam tournaments to schedule a rest day, has an atmosphere all of its own. "Rest day", however, is not a term the players would use. While the grounds are empty but for a handful of staff, the practice courts are as busy as ever with players steel ing themselves for this week's final push. Middle Sunday is followed by Manic Monday, when all 16 competitors in both singles events are on court in the fourth round.
The highest temperature of the year so far is forecast. The mercury is expected to climb to 32C on a day when the heat of competition will also rise several degrees, particularly in the first match on Centre Court. Andy Murray has grown accustomed to being last out of the locker room – ever since the days of 'Tea-time Tim', when Tim Henman was almost invariably in the evening slot, the BBC has preferred to play its trump card late in the day – but the 24-year-old Scot will open proceedings with his fourth-round meeting with Richard Gasquet.
Having played twice under the roof last week, Murray will find a very different Centre Court when he walks out at 1pm this afternoon. In the humid conditions under the roof, the balls can become heavy and the conditions slow. Today, with the temperature rising and the grass drying out, the balls should be flying.
At least yesterday gave Murray a chance to adapt to the changing conditions. The world No 4 practised with the Spaniard David Ferrer, while Gasquet shared his practice session with Roger Federer.
"The Sunday when you come into practice is really quiet because there are no crowds or anything," Murray said. "It does feel like a bit of a division between the first and second weeks. I don't feel like there's a huge difference in standards or that the guys you play in the second week are way, way better. It's just that there is maybe a slightly different feeling because you come in on Sunday and it's empty and on Monday again it's packed."
If this afternoon's match is anything like the two previous confrontations between the two men in Grand Slam tournaments, then we are in for a treat.
Three years ago Murray played the most memorable match of his Wimbledon career to beat the Frenchman, who won the first two sets and served for victory in the third, only for the Scot to stage a sensational comeback and win after nearly four hours of high drama. At the end, Murray rolled up his sleeve to show his bulging biceps in a demonstration of all the hard work he had done to improve his fitness and durability.
Last year, Murray repeated the feat at the French Open: after being outplayed by Gasquet in the first two sets, he again recovered to win in five. The Scot has become a master of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, having now won from two sets down on five occasions.
Gasquet and Murray, along with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils, are members of what has long been trumpeted as a golden generation. Gasquet, who is 11 months older than Murray, has been groomed for the top echelon ever since he appeared on the front cover of a French tennis magazine at the age of nine. He first drew the attention of the wider world when he beat Federer in Monte Carlo when he was just 18, won his first title at Nottingham the same year and reached the semi-finals here in 2007.
Murray and Gasquet followed similar paths through the ranks – and up the rankings. The Scot reached the world's top 10 three months earlier than the Frenchman in April 2007 – but their careers took sharply different turns two years ago. While Murray's stock continued to rise, Gasquet's fell sharply when he served a short suspension after testing positive for cocaine, which he said had entered his system through kissing a woman in a nightclub.
The route back has not been easy, but there have been signs this year that Gasquet is recapturing some of his best form. The world No 13 reached the quarter-finals at Indian Wells, beat Federer in Rome and made the fourth round in Paris, his best performance at his home Grand Slam tournament.
A wonderfully elegant player – who, of all the leading men, is closest to Federer, in terms of style – Gasquet has won two of his four matches against Murray. If the Scot can claim the more significant victories in that they were both in Grand Slam tournaments, it is also true that Gasquet's two wins were appreciably more comfortable.
Murray, nevertheless, sees the fact that he has twice come back from the dead against Gasquet as a psychological advantage. "It's good to have in the back of my mind when I go in against him in a match like this," Murray said. "Even if I go behind, I know I can come back against him."
Gasquet and Murray never played each other as juniors. "Growing up he was always one of the best in his age group," Murray said. "When he was 12 he was always playing in the under-14s and then he was winning junior Grand Slams – under-18s – when he was 16, so he was always well above his age group.
"But a lot of that does sometimes come down to physically how mature you are and also when you start playing. If you've been playing since you were a young kid then you're ahead of guys. That makes a difference. But he is unbelievably talented. He's got really good hand-eye co-ordination and he's a great ball-striker."
Pick of today's matches
* A Murray v R Gasquet
Scotland's finest opens proceedings on Centre against an opponent who has twice taken him to five sets.
* R Nadal v J M Del Potro
The defending champion faces a stern test against 6ft 6 Argentine Del Potro in the final match on Centre Court.
* S Williams v M Bartoli
Returned to a showcourt, four-time champion Serena takes on 2007 finalist and French Open semi-finalist Bartoli.
Murray's (probable) route to the final
4th round: Richard Gasquet (France, aged 25, world No 13)
Lost to Murray here in 2008 and at last year's French Open, squandering two-set leads on both occasions, but the Frenchman excels on grass and is in best form for three years.
Quarter-finals: Feliciano Lopez (Spain, aged 29, world No 44)
Big-serving left-hander who loves playing on grass, having twice reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. He knocked out Andy Roddick in straight sets in the third round.
Semi-finals: Rafael Nadal (Spain, aged 25, world No 1)
Occasionally struggled against Gilles Muller in the third round but has yet to drop a set in the tournament. The defending champion has beaten Murray twice here without losing a set.
Final: Roger Federer (Switzerland, aged 29, world No 3)
Reached fourth round with crushing win over David Nalbandian. Seedings say Djokovic should win semi-final against Federer but the Swiss has won title six times.Reuse content