With the pump of a fist and the mop of an exhausted brow, he had done it. At just after dinner time on Wednesday evening, tennis’ World number four Andy Murray was free to retire to his changing room after one of the greatest victories of his fledgling career.
While the opposition was in-form and formidable, this match did not represent a famous victory against one of the ‘big three’, nor was it a showcase of absolute dominance: it was far from being a straight sets victory against a hapless rival. Instead, the brilliance of Murray’s Wimbledon quarter-final win against Spaniard David Ferrer was all about his coming of age.
It was a victory of grit and dogged determination, in which the two top-ten ranked individuals played out no less than three grueling tie breaks in sets each lasting over an hour. The match represented the ‘new Andy Murray’, whose strength, fitness and resolve mark an athlete more hungry for major victories than ever before, and whose immeasurable improvement may just come to fruition in a few days should he defeat Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Friday’s semi-final.
The manner of his win will whip ‘Murray-mania’ into a frenzy. Long gone, it seems, are the question marks surrounding the Scot’s mental strength and hunger for victory. As the world number seven, Ferrer, caught his breath to serve for the second set, the Murray of old would have crumbled, leading to a grumpy press conference and the trotting-out of the same old excuses. Not this time. With the tenacity of a bunny-chasing greyhound, he broke straight back, forcing the affair into a tie-break and overcoming a further set point to level the match at one set all.
Ferrer is enjoying the season of his life, with no less than four tour titles to his name this season so far, and he provided no let-up with a string of fearsome rallies. He did his best to block the path, throwing all he had at his opponent in an admirable performance of sheer blood and guts. The 6-4 third set in favour of Murray was as one-sided as the match would get as the fourth set that was rudely interrupted by an all-too-familiar rain delay, was again decided by a dramatic tie-break win for the semi-finalist. Murray came out victorious – 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6.
Murray’s career so far can be split into two very distinct periods. The ‘old Andy’ was all about potential, about undeveloped class always threatening to make itself heard. Indeed, the fragile beast achieved qualification for two major finals, along with a string of semi-finals showings that all ultimately came to nothing. Then, along came Lendl.
Ivan Lendl, the eight-time major champion of enormous class and respect, was appointed as Murray’s coach in 2011, with the mission statement to drag the 25-year-old out of his comfort zone and into the major-winning class of messrs Djokovic, Nadal and Federer. The ‘new Andy’ owes everything to the legendary Czech, whose implementation of a strict dietary and fitness regime, along with brutal strengthening of his understudy’s psyche, turned out to be difference in Wednesday’s win.
The one major that Lendl failed to win was the big one. Wimbledon evaded the Czech (the best he achieved was the final in 1986 and ’87), but if Andy Murray continues to shrug the demons off his back and defeat Tsonga and the waiting Djokovic or Federer, then he can surely count 2012 as the year he truly came of age.
Never before has Lendl’s work been better showcased than on Wednesday, at Ferrer’s expense. If Murray is to go on and win major after major, maybe even starting this weekend, then this win should be seen as the turning point in a promising career.