Outside Wimbledon station, the man collecting for charity with a live sheep draped in a cross of St George, was being interrogated by a bemused police officer. Around the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis And Croquet Club (never forget the croquet) there was Union Jack fancy dress. It is that time deep into the second week when British tennis gets itself into a collective tizz, wondering if this is at last The Year in The Championships for history to be made.
Under Andy Murray, all was nevertheless supposed to be rather calmer. Then he contrived a double-fault to give away the first set, a couple of horrible errors to lose the second and suddenly it was all our yesterdays; rushing home to switch on the television and seeing Tim Henman putting the nation through an emotional mangle again.
In what might be called the Henman Years, spectators and viewers alike willed our boy on towards that elusive first final since Bunny Austin, while pessimistically doubting he would ever make it. Four times in five years he reached the last four, only to be halted at the next step by Pete Sampras (twice), Lleyton Hewitt and, most famously in 2001, Goran Ivanisevic amid endless rain delays on the roofless Centre Court.
There followed defeats in the last eight by Sébastien Grosjean and Mario Ancic, by which time the world – if not Henman himself – had accepted it was not going to happen.
From 2005 a young Murray had taken on the mantle, and burden, making the second week every time for the past five years and only once going out to a lower seed. When Andy Roddick inflicted that defeat in 2009, some wondered whether he might simply be Henman II; since then there have been quarter-final victories over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer before class in the form of Rafa Nadal (twice) and Roger Federer, tended to have its way.
But now, with a third successive victory over a Spaniard at this stage comes every hope that there will at least be a Briton in the final again.
When Juan Martin del Potro took his painful tumble so soon in the opening match on Centre, it looked for a while as if Murray and Fernando Verdasco might be having to rush their preparations. Instead, to the television schedulers' relief, they were kept waiting until something closer to peak viewing time and found half the crowd and most of the Royal Box had nipped off for a quick cuppa.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who had been in New York when Murray made his great breakthrough at the US Open last September, was one of those who hurried back – he is, after all, used to taking only 15-minute half-time breaks – amused to find himself three seats from England manager Roy Hodgson and next to his now former centre-half, the Mikhail Youzhny lookalike Nemanja Vidic.
Like the majority of the crowd he was doubtless expecting a further triumph for his fellow countryman but must have been tempted to jump up and make that gesture occasionally required to rouse an Old Trafford crowd lulled into lethargy by Manchester United's failure to steamroller some clearly inferior visiting team early enough.
Verdasco, however, was no feeble Fulham or supine Sunderland. Holding his own and his serve from the start, he broke Murray to leave the Scot (Murray, though possibly Fergie as well) muttering "always, always, always" to himself after a ghastly double-fault to concede the opening set. At what appeared to be a key point in the second, a long and thrilling rally that Murray won to lead 30-0 against serve, the crowd broke protocol and earned a rebuke from the chair for cheering during the point. But there was no more to shout about in that game except for the few Spaniards with their "Vamos Nando!" as the underdog recovered to take a 2-0 lead.
"At two-sets down you have to take small steps to put pressure on your opponent," Henman was advising in the commentary box. Murray managed that, turning them into more confident ones during a one-sided third set and then the fourth.
Small steps became giant strides, the Royal Box basking in the sunshine and now, eventually, in the glow of victory. Phew. And mercifully nobody shouted, "Come on Tim".Reuse content