Andy Murray will hope the Centre Court crowd can recapture the Olympic spirit when he takes on Roger Federer in the Wimbledon semi-finals.
Murray’s victory over Federer in the gold-medal match of 2012, when a flag-waving crowd turned the most famous stadium in tennis into a cauldron of noise, remains one of the Scot’s most cherished memories. He believes that home advantage can be a crucial factor in tennis, though he acknowledges that the Wimbledon public have a special affection for Federer.
“I hope I get good support,” Murray said. “It’s been the case throughout the whole event and every year that I played here. Roger’s obviously extremely popular everywhere he goes, so it might not be as partisan a crowd or atmosphere as some matches that I play here. But it will still be an excellent atmosphere, so I’m sure I’ll still get a boost from the crowd.”
The overwhelming support for Murray in the Olympic final contrasted with the Wimbledon final four weeks earlier, when many in the Centre Court crowd cheered Federer to victory over the Scot. Federer has also enjoyed good support when he has played Murray in the World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena.
Murray’s former coach, Brad Gilbert, who is here as part of ESPN’s commentary team, said: “I was surprised in 2012 how even the crowd was, or maybe even slightly towards Roger. And at the O2 Arena I even feel like it’s more for Roger. The Olympics was a completely different crowd and that helped Andy a lot.”
Mats Wilander, seven times a Grand Slam champion, agreed. “I think the thing that can make a difference is the crowd,” he said. “If the crowd gets behind Andy and he gets fired up by the crowd, then fires them up, that would be an extra gear he could go to.”
Jonas Bjorkman, one of Murray’s coaches, said the Wimbledon crowd was always “very fair”. He added: “I think they should be fair but hopefully with a little bit of an edge. A bit of edge supporting Andy would be great.”
Federer has beaten Murray in 12 of their 23 meetings and is on a three-match winning run against the Scot. Bjorkman, who lost to Federer in the semi-finals here nine years ago, said: “When Andy and Roger are playing they always have close matches. It’s two giants of the game and completely different to the match I played.”
Might this be Federer’s last big chance to win a Grand Slam title? “You can never count him out,” Bjorkman said. “Everyone said three years ago that he was done and finished, but he’s still there, playing well, competing for the big matches.”
He added: “They are both playing with a lot of confidence. They know each other extremely well, having played each other so many times, so I think it’s going to be up to the one who can perform the best on the day out there tomorrow.”
Murray has been feeling soreness in his right shoulder in his last three matches and says he would like to be serving with more power, but Bjorkman does not expect the Scot to be in any physical difficulty.
“He was hitting the ball nicely and even against [Vasek] Pospisil, he looked great,” Bjorkman said. “He has played a lot of matches this year, probably more than ever with the great season he has had. It is probably more that some days you are a little bit more tired in the muscles.”
Gilbert considers Murray the slight favourite. “That’s based on what he’s done in the last four months but he’s still got to go out and execute,” Gilbert said.
“Roger is as fit as a fiddle for his age and could play 15 sets. He takes small steps. He’s very efficient with what he is doing and has expended no energy on his run to the semi-finals. He’s dropped serve once so he’s never really been up against it, so fitness-wise he’ll be fine.”
Tim Henman is also backing Murray. “It’s a fantastic match for the tournament and you can make a strong case for both of them,” he said. “But Andy is playing the best I have seen him. He did it in 2013 and he can do it again now.”
Wilander, who believes Murray has been tested more than Federer en route to the semi-finals, thinks the contest will go to five sets. “Both of them will figure out a way to prolong the match to the very end,” he said. “This is the most excited I have been for a match between the two of them, ever, in terms of their rivalry.”
Novak Djokovic takes on Richard Gasquet in the first of the semi-finals. Gasquet beat Stan Wawrinka in the last round, but the Frenchman will be playing in only his third Grand Slam semi-final, whereas the Serb will be playing in his 27th. Djokovic has won his last nine matches against Gasquet, most recently at last month’s French Open.
Murray’s history lesson: Five matches against Federer he can learn from
US Open final 2008 Federer won 6-2, 7-5, 6-2
In his first Grand Slam final Murray paid for his efforts after having to play his semi-final against Rafael Nadal over the previous two days, while Federer enjoyed a day of rest. Murray won only five points against serve in the first set but improved in the latter stages.
Wimbledon final 2012 Federer won 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4
Murray dominated the early part of his first Wimbledon final but the match turned after the Centre Court roof was closed following a rain break. Federer, who loves playing indoors, attacked Murray more and more in the last two sets to win his seventh Wimbledon title.
Olympic final 2012 Murray won 6-2, 6-1, 6-4
Four weeks after losing to Federer in the Wimbledon final, Murray turned the tables to become Britain’s first tennis gold medallist for 104 years. Murray, roared on by a passionate crowd, was on top throughout and won with a stunning display of attacking tennis.
Australian Open semi-final 2013 Murray won 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2
Murray served superbly to claim his first victory over Federer at a Grand Slam tournament and showed great mental strength to fight back after losing two tie-breaks. In the deciding set Murray never looked back after going 3-0 up and went on to secure victory after four hours.
World Tour Finals 2014 Federer won 6-0, 6-1
The most recent encounter between the two men ended in Murray’s heaviest defeat for seven years. When he served at 0-5 and 0-30 in the second set a “double bagel” beckoned but Murray finally won a game to get on the scoreboard. Murray’s verdict on the match: “Frustrating.” Federer’s: “I just really picked apart his game.”
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