"What are you doing?"
As he sat during the changeover preceding the third set of his quarterfinal match with Fernando Verdasco, Andy Murray unleashed a lengthy monologue to no one in particular. (It was hard to make out every word through lip-reading, but "What are you DOING?" is the only portion that should be shared without censoring.) It actually looked like he was yelling at someone standing a few feet in front of him, but since there was nobody there, it appears he was simply yelling at Evil Andy, the being who had inhabited his body (and abandoned his forehand in the locker room) for the first two sets.
Murray never got his forehand back, at least not completely, but he survived. After losing eight of nine break points (on either serve) in the first two sets, he won eight of the final nine, capitalized on the one opportunity he got in the fifth set, and advanced to the semifinals with a 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 win.
Verdasco isn't known as a great closer, but while his level perhaps dropped, Murray won mostly because he raised his own. With his offense struggling (on forehand ground strokes, he had six winners to 10 unforced errors), he just put his head down and battled, forcing eventual errors in long rallies, winning just enough toss-up points, and taking nearly break point down the stretch. And at 5-5 in the fifth, he won the final six points of the match.
Sometimes you just have to survive. In 2012, eventual Wimbledon champion Roger Federer dropped the first two sets of his third-round match against Julien Benneteau before rallying. In 2010, again in the third round, Rafael Nadal dropped the second and third sets to Philipp Petzschner, but found a way. Hell, Murray knows this as well as anybody, having now rallied many times from a two-set deficit. (He did so at Wimbledon against Richard Gasquet in 2008.) Wherever Evil Andy hid Murray's 'A' game, it would behoove him to find it before Friday's semifinals. But Murray indeed advanced. And in this fortnight, style points don't count for anything.
What a Moment
Occasionally, sports remind you why you follow sports. The moments following Jerzy Janowicz's win over Lukasz Kubot gave us just such a reminder. A year after making his slam debut, Janowicz has surged into tennis' B-level (at least); and while his in-match temper is a little distracting, his post-match joy is endearing. He fully understands the gravity of what he is doing, bringing elite tennis achievement to a country that hasn't really seen it before (on the men's side, at least). That he not only reached a slam semifinal, but did so against a countryman in the first ever Pole vs. Pole quarters battle in a men's slam, was too much for him. He fell to the ground, wept, rose for a lengthy embrace (and shirt exchange) with Kubot, then wept again.
Janowicz's fragile display followed the same kind of sturdy tennis he has shown for the last week and a half. Kubot had no answer for Janowicz's first serve; Janowicz served up 30 aces and won 90 percent of his first-serve points. Kubot had four break-point opportunities in the second set, but couldn't convert, and the third set was mostly a formality. Even as Kubot's return improved, his opponent just kept hammering away. Janowicz's 58 winners to 14 unforced errors were too much for his 31-year-old countryman.
For all we know, it might be too much for Murray, too. The 6'8 Pole is more than just a big serve; his movement has translated well to the grass -- as I wrote earlier this week, he is two inches taller than Juan Martin del Potro but moves like he is four inches shorter -- and his defense has improved over the last year. The two have played just twice: Murray won in straight sets against a 19-year-old Janowicz in a 2009 Davis Cup tie, and Janowicz took Murray down in three sets last year at the ATP World Tour Masters in Paris. In that match, Janowicz dominated with his first serve, even against a supreme returner in Murray, and he won 8-of-13 break points. Do that on Friday, and he's quite possibly in the finals.
Wimbledon lucks out
Nothing against Verdasco, Kubot, or any of the other quarterfinalists who lost on Wednesday, but despite so many early exits -- Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga -- Wimbledon stumbled into a hell of a pair of semifinals. Djokovic and Murray are the game's two best players at the moment, Juan Martin del Potro has played incredibly well of late (despite an injury), and Janowicz could be the game's biggest (literally and figuratively) rising star. All four have shown supreme, dominant tennis through most of the fortnight, and even when they haven't, they've survived. Underdog stories are good, but so is star power. Somehow, Wimbledon lucked into both.