Andy Murray was made to fight for his victory over Mikhail Youzhny here on Monday and there were times when he felt the lower back injury that forced him to miss the French Open, but nothing is going to deflect the world No 2 from his mission to win Wimbledon. “I wouldn’t stop,” Murray said last night when asked how much pain he would need to be in to pull out of the tournament. “Now that I’m playing, there’s no chance I would stop unless I couldn’t hold the racket.”
A 6-4, 7-6, 6-1 victory over Youzhny took the Scot into his sixth successive Wimbledon quarter-final, a record of consistency which no other player can match. If it was a less emphatic win than his previous three it still preserved Murray’s record of not dropping a set in the tournament.
Murray needed extra treatment on his back after his 15th successive grass-court victory but insisted there was no cause for concern. “My back is what it is,” he said. “It’s felt way, way better than it was a few weeks ago. There are a few times on the court where you feel things. You just have to find a way of managing those issues and getting through them.
“I need to make sure I do all the right things, like ice-bathing, having my massage, and taking care of my body. Obviously a few weeks ago I missed the French Open. I don’t want it to be a case of things creeping back up on me. I want to take care of my body. It’s my main priority this tournament.”
Murray, who will take on Spain’s Fernando Verdasco in tomorrow’s quarter-finals, was below his best during the second set in particular, but showed what a gritty competitor he is. Although he did not strike his killer backhand down the line with his usual conviction Murray still served 15 aces and his 45 winners contrasted with just 16 unforced errors.
“The matches are going to keep getting tougher,” Murray said. “ You don’t fluke at getting into the quarter-finals of a Slam. You need to win four tough matches to get there. Everyone is playing well now.”
The fact that this was a harder-fought victory than in his first three rounds was as much down to Youzhny’s quality as it was to any dip in Murray’s form. Although Youzhny has never gone beyond the quarter-finals here, only three other current players – Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt and Murray – have won more matches on grass than the 31-year-old Russian, who reached his first final on the surface in Halle last month.
A great stylist with a flamboyant single-handed backhand, Youzhny showed some delightful touches, especially at the net, but Murray quickly stamped his authority, taking the first set with a single break of serve in the third game. When the Scot broke again at the same stage of the second set, completing the job with a stupendous forehand cross-court winner when at full stretch, he seemed to be coasting, but his tendency to drop his own serve immediately after a break is a recurring problem.
This time he was broken twice in a row as Youzhny went 5-2 up. However, the Russian was unable to press home his advantage as Murray fought back to force a tie-break. The Scot went 4-2 down with a double fault, but played beautifully to win five of the next six points. An exquisite drop shot and a bold serve-and-volley foray were followed by a superb backhand return winner on set point.
Youzhny, who had treatment on his shoulder before the third set, had two break points in the opening game but was soon 3-0 down. After breaking again, Murray served out for victory after two hours and 37 minutes with another classic serve-and-volley combination.
“I was pretty pumped up, especially after I won the second set, because I came back from 5-3 down in that tie-break and played four very good points to get that set,” Murray said. “It was an important set. I was up a break and then down a break. He served for the set. Then I had chances to break at 5-5. There was a lot of toing and froing. That was a big set to win.”
Verdasco brushed aside France’s Kenny de Schepper in straight sets. When Murray was told that Barry Cowan, the Sky commentator, had suggested that the Scot would be happy to face the Spanish left-hander in the quarter-finals he held his head in his hands and laughed. “Verdasco is a very, very good tennis player,” Murray said. “He’s playing very well this week. He’s extremely dangerous when he’s on his game.”
Murray added: “I haven’t played a left-hander the whole year, which I think is pretty amazing, six months into the year, so I’ll try and get a leftie in to serve at me tomorrow.”
If Murray can beat the world No 54, who has lost eight of their nine meetings, he is likely to face his biggest test yet – in every sense –against Jerzy Janowicz in Friday’s semi-finals. The 6ft 8in Pole, who beat Murray in the Paris Masters at the end of last year, reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final thanks to a 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Austria’s Jürgen Melzer. Janowicz, aged 22, will be the firm favourite to make the last four at the expense of his fellow Pole, Lukasz Kubot. It is the first time ever that two Polish men have reached the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam event – and one of them will be the first to play in a semi-final.