At 25 years of age, Andy Murray has all the tools to finally take home a major title.
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Ivan Lendl (left) has worked hard with Murray since 2011, imparting the wisdom that won eight career Grand Slams.
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By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON, England -- Britain's Andy Murray has never been the highest seed left in his half of the Wimbledon draw. While he has been a standout player for the last five years, he's never been favored to reach the Wimbledon final.
Yet with the second round loss of No. 2 Rafael Nadal - a man who had beaten him in three out of the last four Wimbledons - and with his fine play in his last two matches in victories over former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis and seed Marin Cilic, it appears that if "The Muzza" (as the call him in Britain) plays his best, he'll at least have a chance to walk on court on Sunday with a crack at becoming the first man since Fred Perry in 1936 to raise the Wimbledon crown.
The oddmakers certainly think so: With Nadal's exit, the Murray line dropped to 4-1 to win it all.
"I'm sure it would mean a lot," said the fourth-seeded Murray of potential title. "I can't put into words or describe how it would feel because I haven't felt it before. But it's so far away. I'm sure you get that, I don't know, that feeling or what the sensations that you get are when it's close to winning a major.
"But I'm not feeling that right now because I'm playing against the No. 5 player in the world in my next match, and I lost against him a few weeks ago at the French Open. It's so far to think about it just now."
That man who Murray will face is the semis is Spaniard David Ferrer, who has continued his remarkable transition from being a born-and-bred clay courter to a stand out hard courter, to now a man to be feared on grass courts.
After taking down Murray to reach the Roland Garros semifinals (where he was stomped by Nadal), Ferrer won the Wimbledon warm-up grass court tournament in the Netherlands. During this fortnight, Ferrer has only dropped one set in four matches, outrunning three-time Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick in the third round and then pushing 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro off the court in the fourth round on Tuesday.
Ferrer is a quality player and while he has only beaten Murray in one of their five hard court matches (he has defeated him four times on clay), the two have never faced off on grass.
"The one thing that a lot of players can struggle with is the movement," Murray said. "That's the one thing that's normally the hardest part on the grass if you're used to playing on other surfaces. I saw a bit of his match with Roddick a few days ago. He seems like he's moving better than in the past. This year he's playing his best tennis I think of his career. I don't know if he would say the same thing, but from playing against him and watching, he's playing very well."
Ferrer said that Murray "has to be called the favorite," but he's a humble sort who isn’t about to toot his own horn, especially while plying his trade in Murray's country. He understands national pressure himself, having never won a major title in Spain. The same goes with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is also in Murray's half of the draw and who has yet to win the Roland Garros crown.
Intense national pressure is nothing to sneeze at, especially in Britain, which is proud of having self-criticism as a national pastime.
Murray is sort of in a dammed-if-he-does-dammed-if-he-doesn’t scenario: If he beats Ferrer and then Tsonga or Philip Kohlschreiber to reach the final, he will become the first man since Perry to do so, which he will surely be praised for. But if he is clubbed, say by No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the final, the parade will end very quickly.
"If someone doesn't want me to do well, then it's nice to play well," Murray said when asked about proving his doubters wrong. "Every week going into Wimbledon, the week beforehand, there's talk about all sorts of things. It's not this one more than any other one."
For the most part in his career, Murray has done well contending with pressure at home, having reached the semifinals in his last three appearances. However, he was expected to tip Roddick in 2009 and the American hit through him in a tough four-setter. Although he was the underdog against Nadal in the last two years, there were hopes he could turn the tables against him in 2011, but he still fell in four sets.
At age 25, Murray has reached three major finals: At the 2008 US Open and the 2010 and 2011 Australian Opens, but he has yet to win a major. He is a terrific mover and has one of the best returns in the game in the sport; additionally, he has an excellent two-handed backhand, a much-improved first serve and a developing forehand.
With 22 titles overall and with victories over all of men's tennis' "Big Three" - Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer - in a three-match stretch, playing at his best, with a Grand Slam-winning coach in Ivan Lendl in his corner and the crowd fervently behind him, there are few reasons why he shouldn’t at least come close to the title. He seems to have the right attitude, but the proof will be in his performance.
"I think pressure's always the same really for me, because I put the same pressure on myself each Grand Slam to play my best tennis," Murray said. "So it doesn't change.? I have more experience probably to deal with that pressure a bit better than I used to."