It was never easy for Andy Murray to fight his way to a 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Fernando Verdasco. Trailing two sets was hardly the blueprint, but the world No. 2 found enough nerve and consistency to eke out his comeback and keep his hopes alive for an elusive Wimbledon title.
From the beginning, Murray’s game was passive. He stroked slow and shallow shots into the hitting zone of the left-handed Verdasco. It was a dilemma for Murray, who prefers to lead with his backhand.
This played right into Verdasco’s strength, and the Spaniard teed off with more power and winners. He routinely stepped into the baseline and set up several inside-out blasts, augmented with tough sidespin and diagonal angles.
Murray’s depth was ineffective and his slice was mostly a non-factor in changing the tempo in the first two sets. He had to scramble from positions several meters behind the baseline, which was too difficult in his strategy to exchange groundstrokes.
At 3-5 in the second set, Murray seemed to waste his best opportunity to level the match. He won a fantastic 28-stroke rally that helped him build a 0-40 advantage and three breakpoint opportunities. But Murray faltered with a series of unforced errors and Verdasco closed out the set and appeared to have a grip on all the momentum.
Murray quickly seized the third set with added precision and pace to his groundstrokes. He locked in on each point, his eyes and familiar scowl seemingly oblivious of Centre Court’s partisan support. Toughness became a forte and he seemed to understand it would take grit and determination to claw back.
Verdasco’s energy withered. He was understandably more conservative, and this helped open the door to Murray’s confidence. Verdasco misfired on several short balls and his ambiguous aggressiveness also derived from poorer footwork and perhaps tired legs.
In the fourth set, Verdasco found his second wind and continued to pressure Murray with power and spin. He produced breakpoint opportunities but could not cash in. Often, he forced Murray to stab defensively and poke back floaters that sat up for Verdasco. He was able to force the action, even as Murray continued to raise his game.
Patrick McEnroe, a color commentator for ESPN who called the match, said, “Clearly, he [Murray] has been frustrated with the way things have gone in this match.”
Murray showed resolve to gain his fourth set break. He displayed a champion’s patience in finding his way back slowly, feeling the tempo of each point and adjusting to Verdasco’s attack. His comeback was more methodical than spectacular, but it produced a fifth set.
Meanwhile, the crowd roared their support for Murray. The energy at Centre Court was like Davis Cup competition, and the crowd was asked to keep quiet for both players during points. Thunderous applause rocked the stadium with every Verdasco error and with Murray’s success.
The fifth set turned into a dogfight. Neither player relinquished his serve and midway through the set, both players hung tough when they each faced 0-30 deficits. The match had turned into a battle of wills.
Verdasco labored at times with his stamina, but he did not cheat on his footwork. He was uncanny in winning a point with his back against the wall. He was able to silence the crowd and regain his focus when he needed it most. He produced big serves and smart winners when he gained the advantage. He set himself up perfectly for the upset.
At Wimbledon, there is no tiebreaker in a fifth set. The match was deadlocked with neither player willing to concede. It seemed as if it could continue for a long time.
The 11th game was the breakthrough for Murray. He capitalized off a Verdasco double fault and a spectacular defensive-to-offensive point to seize the 30-40 advantage. Murray broke as he forced Verdasco to sail a long forehand, and the crowd rose to its feet for the changeover.
Murray served out the match behind his tremendous resolve. The Scotsman added another level to his championship resume with this epic comeback. He willed himself to victory with a tough, resilient triumph on a day his dream was threatened.
For Verdasco, it was another heartbreaking defeat, similar to his 2009 Australian Open five-sets defeat versus Rafael Nadal.
Murray moves on to the semifinals where he will face young Polish upstart Jerzy Janowicz.
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