When Rafael Nadal stepped onto Centre Court for his semi-final against Andy Murray he did so in the knowledge that come Monday he would no-longer be World Number One, having just seen Djokovic secure a victory that took him to the top spot. It is hard to know whether it was this news or Murray’s sensational start to the match that caused the Spaniard to drop the first set but one thing’s for sure, he was not willing to lose both his ranking and Wimbledon title in the same day.
Right from the start of Murray v Nadal the defending champion looked strangely nervous and ill-at-ease whilst the Brit was comfortably going for his shots and absorbing whatever was thrown at him; an approach that quickly brought success as he notched up the first set after 54 minutes. Up on The Hill the atmosphere was an odd mix of electric excitement and nervous restraint, as people who had raced for prime viewing spots earlier in the day started to contemplate the prospect of having a hometown hero in the final. Wedged between two picnic tables but feeling utter elation at the thought of potentially seeing a Brit in the Wimbledon final, I urged, cheered and bellowed support at the big screen along with thousand of fellow fans. If the sheer weight of collective wanting could carry someone to success Murray would have reached the final the moment he stepped on court. Unfortunately it was not enough, in the same way that Murray’s game was not enough, because in the fifth game of the second set Nadal broke which sparked the turnaround that led to a four-set victory for the Spaniard. Whilst one break cannot gain you a victory this one seemed to change the entire momentum of the match; Nadal’s confidence rose and he began to play his trademark destructive tennis, Murray’s first serve percentage dropped below 50 per cent and it quickly became clear he was going to stick to his original risky strategy – even though it wasn’t working. In reports afterwards people kept citing a few key points that lost Murray the match, and yes, there were some crucial moments which signalled defeat, but even if he had won those I still think he would have lost. Whereas it was Nadal looked uncomfortable in the first set, the Scot now seemed far from his usual self. Although Murray is widely criticised for his mid-match moans and groans they are part of his game and they do seem to aid him but in the semi he was strangely quiet, in the final three sets he was missing returns that are usually his bread and butter, and most of all he lacked variety. I like to watch Murray because he builds points very cunningly, steadily luring in his opponent before trapping them with a sensationally pacey down the line or a sneaky drop-shot but in this match he repeatedly played cross-court to Nadal’s backhand, waiting for him to make a mistake that unsurprisingly did not come.
I’ll be entirely truthful; Murray’s defeat hit me hard. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to attend a Wimbledon final that featured a Brit, I was sad because I honestly believed he was playing well
enough to win it and I was upset to see him so disheartened. Most of all though I was angry because I knew that all of the doubters, who watch tennis once or twice a year, would use his defeat as yet more evidence for their claims that he’s a choker and an underachiever. I had desperately wanted Murray to succeed to prove them all wrong and show that he is a superbly gifted player who on his day can overcome Federer, Nadal or Djokovic. Please, if you are an occasional tennis fan and you read this blog, believe me when I say Murray is a phenomenal player and he has achieved some stunning victories in his career and is achingly close to a major success.
One other thing I wanted to mention in this entry is that if you didn’t see any of the Tsonga v Djokovic semi-final I urge you to try and catch some of the highlights because it is one of the most entertaining matches I’ve watched in a long time; two superb athletes giving it their acrobatic all!