Andy Murray creates Wimbledon 'mayHenmania'
Andy Murray vs Richard Gasquet, Wimbledon 4th Round, 30th June 2008
For the seasoned tennis watcher, this was Andy Murray's opportunity to prove that he could step up to the plate and deliver at the top of the men's game. The fall of the last of the top four ladies seeds, Kuznetsova (4) after a valiant two hour duel against new kid on the block Radwanska delayed the 12th and 8th seeds appearance on Centre Court until 5.30.
Murray appeared with his new for Wimbledon 2008 extra British look. He has dropped the Scottish flag sweatbands of old to help appeal to any in the crowd with memories long enough to remember his unfortunate quote about supporting any team that was playing England at anything. The baseball cap is gone too, suggesting a new found maturity, opening himself up to be supported by a wider public, but critically to try to guarantee the passionate support of a Wimbledon Centre Court crowd. This is probably the best behaved crowd on the Grand Slam circuit which carries both positives and negatives. Silence during points is eerie, given the 15,000 capacity crowd, but they need something to shout about before they start to flex their vocal cords.
The match started with Gasquet winning the toss and electing to serve. Gasquet looked fluid from the start, seeming to feed off the crowd's nervousness as Murray battled with ripped backhands and forhands from Gasquet's talented wings. It seemed that every time Gasquet need to win a point, he would play the ball at Murray, asking him to make the space to make the next drive. During this and the next two and a half sets, Murray appeared to be a little too pressurised to emulate Gasquet's fluid movement; this play from Gasquet won him many points. But Murray was up for a fight, ever aware of an ATP (Association Of Tennis Professionals) statistic that for a top 20 player, the winner of the first set goes on to be victorious in the match 89.6% of the time. Several times he saved break points through the first set, but not managing to create one on Gasquet's serve, such was the quality of Gasquet's play. Also, in this first set, Gasquet was taking the initiative and taking up the net position seemingly never missing a volley. Murray buckled eventually at 7-5, with his serve failing to deliver when it was most needed. His first serve percentage was around 45% during the first set.
Murray tried to rally himself, but soon found that Gasquet had broken again pushing him further on the ropes. In some part this was down to Murray's nervousness and overplaying of the drop shot - three times he played the shot in one game, converting a 30-0 lead into a break point for Gasquet, which was duly converted. Murray's serve got worse, his second serve being regulary teed up on both flanks by Gasquet as he approached the net and turned the screw on Murray. Tension was clearly hampering Murray, with the weight of expectation on his shoulders, but the weakest part of his game, his service consistency, causing him to lose control of point after point to the free flailing strokes of masterful Gasquet. However, what was so important was Murray managed to hold serve at 5-2 down. Gasquet took the second set 6-3, never building on the one break of serve, but equally not looking like he would lose his, despite Murray creating his first break points of the match.
The third set saw a continuation of what had gone before, but crucially Murray was serving first. Gasquet had clearly not read the script and constructed a fantastic point with a dropshot and cross court ripped backhand winner to eventually break in the ninth game. The Centre Court crowd was appreciative of his skill and applauded generously. However, when Gasquet came back out to serve at 5-4, Murray found some inspiration and suddenly appeared to free himself from the shackles that had prevented him from swinging freely up to this point. He took Gasquet to 0-40 with some attacking returns, stepping in on the second serve like he had not done so far in the match. Gasquet felt this pressure and double faulted to concede the break back. The crowd came alight as if they had been a bonfire on a damp day, suddenly being charged with 5 litres of petrol. Now with Murray serving first, and the suddenly raucous crowd willing him on you felt he had turned the match on a sixpence. He held serve and the pressure shifted for the first time to Gasquet. The Frenchman saved several break points to force the tie break. Almost certainly, Gasquet would have won a tie break at any point up until 4-4 in the third set, as he had been in total control. However, Murray had been cornered into needing to break serve for the first time to stay in the match. Now having nothing to lose, his tension was gone and his belief that he could beat Gasquet for the first time in this, their third of three meetings was suddenly apparent to all, perhaps even Gasquet.
Murray was just about to demonstrate that he had gained something valuable from his time with Brad Gilbert as a coach. Gilbert is widely regarded as the best reader of the game and the mental approach to it.
In the tiebreaker which could book Gasquet his quarter final place, Murray raced to a 4-0 lead, which became 4-3 and then 6-3 with Gasquet serving. Gasquet approached the net and moved in to volley a backhand across the court. Murray had seen Gasquet play this shot probably 80% of the time when presented with that opportunity during the match so far. Murray guessed correctly which way Gasquet would hit the volley and raced wide to hit a miraculous backhand past the hapless Gasquet into the open court. He was so wide of the court that he stopped his run on the footboards at the front of the crowd and let out an almighty roar that may well have shaken Gasquet to the core.
Gasquet appeared to be riled by the crowd's volume. He had been impervious to their partisan support while he was playing almost faultless tennis, but now all he could hear was the crowd. Murray, with the momentum now, broke Gasquet twice to seal the fourth set 6-2. Whether it was a tactical move to settle the nerves, or a genuine call of nature, Gasquet left the court for a bathroom break while Murray sat trying to focus on the task still ahead.
As the fifth set began at aout 8.45, the tournament refereee Andrew Jarrett was on hand as Gasquet had understandably appeared to question the umpire Marcos Ramos as to when light would be deemed insufficient to continue. It was all the encouragement that Murray needed, as Gasquet perhaps could only see this match going away from him. An overnight rest and consultation with his coaching team would probably be his best chance, especially if he could restart the next day with his early match form.
In a spirited fight by both players in the opening game, Murray broke after a series of dueces despite Gasquet having found some of his previous form. However, if Gasquet had felt deflated in the fourth set and was struggling to move freely due to tension, it now appeared that he was getting tired. Also, while Murray's serve had improved dramatically since that pivotal 9th game of the third set, there were still plenty of second serves coming to Gasquet. He had lost his light footedness and perhaps anticipation on Murray's second serve. As a result, he stood 4 feet behind the baseline rather than hitting from inside it, allowing Murray to dictate the points even on his second serve. By now, Murray was looking the fitter man and delivered plenty of service winners, ensuring that Gasquet would not get a second bite of the cherry. In the descending gloom over Centre Court, time was running out as Gasquet doggedly held on until his early break gave Murray the chance to serve for the match. Cheap service points, a deflated and tired Gasquet, a baying crowd and poor light sealed Gasquet's doom.
Murray then, as if to silence his critics from his inability to complete a match against Thomas Johansson at Queens three years ago due to a lack of physical condition, then rolled up his sleeve and flexed his bicep for the cameras to catch for the world's press. He had booked his place in his first grand slam quarter final, had won over many new fans and come through against all the odds by sticking to the task in hand, however far behind. The one word that describes his performance is one of my least favourite due to its over use by Americans, but it does sum up his comeback - awesome!
Is Rafael Nadal, who currently leads 3-0 in their previous encounters, going to be a step too far? Murray's confident display of his new strength and fitness will undoubtedly count for something, especially if Nadal's knee injury sustained in his fourth round match against Youzhny affects his performance. We can only wait with baited breath. . . . . .
Score: 5-7, 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4 in 3 hours 57 minutes
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