Andy Murray’s Wimbledon dreams have come crashing down around him once more as he lost for the third year in a row at the Semi-Final stage of the competition. With the hopes of the nation resting on his shoulders, Murray strode on to Centre Court with one goal in mind – to make history and become the first British man to feature in a Wimbledon Singles Final since Henry ‘Bunny’ Austin in 1938. But this was not going to be an easy task as the opponent standing between him and Wimbledon Final glory was Rafael Nadal, the defending champion and ten-time Grand Slam winner.
In the fifteen times the pair have met on tour, Nadal has won a staggering eleven of their encounters; a statistic that was sure to have given the Spaniard confidence going into the match. With the ghost of last year’s semi-final defeat to Nadal lingering in the minds of many, Murray had to produce his best tennis under immense pressure to bring about a victory.
After displaying such dominance at Queen’s Club only a month ago, many fans believed that Murray had the potential to realise his Wimbledon dream this year. If he played with the same unrelenting intensity and precise skill as shown in his demolition of Andy Roddick (6-3, 6-1) in the Semi-Final of that tournament, he was sure to be a favourite to make the final round at SW19. With a first set win (7-5) and consistent play from Murray, it appeared that he was going to fight to the end for a closely contested win.
The turning point, as highlighted by Nadal in his post-match press conference, was Murray’s missed forehand shot in the fourth game of the second set. Murray was consolidating his first set lead well, dominating the rallies with his fast pace and well-chosen angles. After forcing Nadal to run wide the court was left open, giving Murray the opportunity he needed to smash a winner into the corner. Initially called good, Nadal was not convinced by the call and challenged using hawk-eye. At this crucial stage in the second set, Murray’s point was overturned as the ball landed just inside the tramlines. For any player that astonishing call would be unnerving and Nadal immediately sensed a weakness in his opponent’s mental state as he powered back to claim the next two points in quick succession.
In tennis, momentum is a beautiful thing that can either make or break a match. After that moment, Murray’s game appeared to collapse as the serve that had been so powerful (scoring two aces in the first game of the match alone) crumbled, leading to a pivotal first break of serve for Nadal. A high serve percentage would be key if Murray was to challenge Nadal for the victory. His final 1st serve percentage rate was 58%, much lower than the 70% target.
Murray has improved immensely over the last few years, training hard to develop all aspects of his game. This has highlighted to an even greater extent his major weakness – a lack of mental tenacity and concentration to power him through the big matches. Until this is rectified, it seems increasingly likely that Murray will remain a runner-up in the latter stages of these big competitions. Inevitably, comparisons to the last great British tennis hope Tim Henman, who reached four Wimbledon Semi-Finals in his career, will be ever-present in the minds of the British public.
The next few months will be pivotal for Murray as he recovers from his Wimbledon loss. In his post-match press conference, he was clearly suffering from the reeling nature of the defeat, painting an understandably despondent figure. We can only hope that he does not fall into a funk similar to that which followed his Australian Open Final defeat to Novak Djokovic earlier this year, and ‘take the positives’ out of his tournament journey.