Roddick rips up the script to crush Murray

American's thunderous serve proves too powerful as Briton bows out in semi-final
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The Independent Online

Perhaps the storyline was too good to be true. One hundred years after the birth of Fred Perry, the last British man to win the title here, the idea of Andy Murray emulating that feat had a wonderfully romantic ring to it, only for reality, in the shape of an American with nerves of steel, to compose a wholly different ending to the script.

A rejuvenated Andy Roddick, twice a previous finalist here and a former US champion, was always likely to offer the biggest challenge to Murray's quest to reach his first Wimbledon final and the 26-year-old played superbly to beat him 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 in just over three hours.

It was a desperately tight match from start to finish, decided, ultimately, by that oldest of weapons in grass-court tennis, the thunderbolt serve. Roddick served superbly throughout and particularly in the tie-breaks. His fastest serve hit 143mph, 12mph faster than Murray's, but the more telling statistic was the number of first serves that hit the target: 103 out of 138, or 75 per cent, a remarkably high figure given the force with which he was striking the ball. Murray hit more aces – 25 to Roddick's 21 – but his first serve percentage (52) was significantly lower.

In almost every other respect it was a tantalisingly even contest. Roddick won 143 points to Murray's 141, but those that decided the outcome came in the two tie-breaks. Among his many qualities Roddick is a wonderful competitor when he has his back to the wall and he has now won 26 of the 30 tie-breaks he has played this year.

While Murray could take pride in his best Wimbledon campaign – in reaching the semi-finals he maintained his record of going one round better here every year – the 22-year-old Scot may look back on this as a missed opportunity, particularly in the absence of the injured Rafael Nadal. Murray was only one win away from a final against Roger Federer, who may be the greatest player ever to have wielded a tennis racket but has also come unstuck against the Scot in their last four meetings.

Nevertheless, Murray is only 22 and will surely have more chances to go one better than his fellow countrymen, Tim Henman, Roger Taylor and Mike Sangster, the other Britons to have fallen at the last hurdle in their attempt to become the first home male finalist here since Bunny Austin in 1938.

Roddick has been regularly written off in recent times and last reached a Grand Slam final three years ago, but he has thrived under the guidance of a new coach, Larry Stefanki, and is a more rounded player, even if his thunderous serve is still his biggest weapon.

The Roddick backhand causes more damage than it once did – the American repeatedly stepped into Murray's second serve to punch backhand winners – and there is plenty of subtlety in his play. With Murray playing well behind the baseline, Roddick surprised the Scot with a number of cleverly disguised drop shots. He dominated many rallies by attacking the net and volleyed with greater assurance than usual.

If Murray's passing shots were sometimes below his high standards, Roddick deserved credit for the quality of his approaches. Murray had his chances, but converted only two of his seven break points. If there were times when he seemed too cautious, it had to be remembered that Murray has not reached No 3 in the world by going on all-out attack. He is a natural counter-attacker and a Grand Slam semi-final is not the moment to change your style.

Murray did not win more than two points in any of Roddick's first five service games. The Scot had not looked in any danger on his own serve until Roddick played a superb game when Murray served at 4-5. On his first set point the American hit a beautiful low skidding backhand down the line to force a Murray error and take the set.

If Murray had looked tentative, a different man emerged for the second. In the opening game he hit two forehand cross-court winners and a winning backhand down the line before Roddick put a forehand in the net to give Murray a break to love. Roddick lost only three more points on his serve in the set, but Murray, finding his range, served out to level the match.

The third set looked likely to start in similar fashion when Roddick lost the first three points on his serve, but the American responded in aggressive fashion to win the next five and keep Murray at bay. It was a crucial game.

Roddick, having broken to lead 3-1, served for the set at 5-3, only to play his worst game of the match, three unforced errors helping Murray to break. In the tie-break Murray forced a set point at 6-5 with three successive aces, only for Roddick to save it with a mishit volley. Matches can turn on such moments of fortune and so it proved as Roddick made the vital mini-break at 7-7 when Murray mishit a forehand.

A tight fourth set went to another tie-break, in which Roddick's first four serves all went unreturned, putting huge pressure on Murray. The Scot saved a first match point with a superb backhand cross-court pass, but his day was done when he put a backhand into the net on the next point.

When Murray left the court he turned to wave to his supporters. On the evidence of the last fortnight the Wimbledon crowd will have plenty more opportunities to acknowledge his brilliance in years to come.

How it all went wrong: Five turning points

*1st set, Murray serving at 4-5 and 30-30

Murray had not had a break point against him until Roddick followed up a splendid attacking backhand with an exquisite drop shot winner. The American won the next point to take the set

*2nd set, Roddick serving on first point

Murray served notice of his intention to step up the pace in the second set by opening with a glorious forehand cross-court pass winner. He also won the next three points to force the only break of the set

*3rd set tie-break, Roddick serving at 2-2

Having broken back on the previous point with a stunning forehand cross-court pass, Murray had a glorious chance to steal the advantage when he chased down a Roddick drop shot but fired what looked to be a routine put-away into the net

*4th set, Roddick serving at 3-4 and 30-40

Roddick had just missed an easy volley to give Murray his first break point of the match but played the next point superbly, rounding it off with a forehand winner

*4th set tie-break, Murray serving at 1-2

The tie-break was going with serve until Murray put a relatively straightforward backhand in the net, giving Roddick a crucial advantage