By Jane Voigt
Sir Andy Murray limped off Centre Court, a loser in five sets to American Sam Querrey.
Novak Djokovic retired before set two was anywhere near over, a lingering elbow problem rupturing his hopes of a fourth Wimbledon crown. Because of that Tomas Berdych won, a former top-ten player Djokovic had beaten 25 of their last 28 meetings.
Marin Cilic donned his meanest face against Gilles Muller, the Rafael Nadal slayer. Cilic was by no means going to lose. Not to that guy. Not to anyone, for that matter. His grit landed him in his first semifinal at Wimbledon.
And Roger Federer avenged his semifinal loss from last year against Milos Raonic, the guy who sent Federer to the sidelines for 7 months after an untimely slip on the grass. The man vying to win his 8th Wimbledon title and 19th major overall crushed the Canadian in three sets as if in a hurry to make a dinner reservation.
The fallout? Murray and Djokovic, the tournament’s top two seeds are out of the competition. It’s the first time since 2003 that the anchors of the draw have been eliminated at Wimbledon.
For the British fans, the day ended dismally. Their Andy, even though he is a Scot, would not defend his title and could end up losing his number-one ranking depending on results from the remainder of the tournament. Yet, Brit Johanna Konta will vie for a spot in the women’s final tomorrow, now saddled with a dollop of extra pressure to perform for a country that punishes its elite athletes in the press when they’re expectations aren’t satisfied.
“The whole tournament I’ve been a little bit sore,” Murray admitted to the press, later, about his ailing hip. “I tried my best right to the end.”
He did. Murray and Querrey split the first two sets. Murray then went up a break in the third. But when Querrey evened the score, the injury seemed to interfere with Murray’s movement and shot execution. The score tells that story: 3-6, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-1, 6-1.
“It was a little bit more sore today,” he said, his voice gravely and low.
Murray had every right to retire before that fifth set finished up. But there have been so many retirements on the men’s side. Perhaps he didn’t want to become a statistic and wanted to give fans what they’d come to see, a full-on match to the bitter end. In the first round alone, when 64 men played matches, seven ended in retirements.
Murray indicated he might take time off, as was Federer forced to do in 2016.
“I’ll sit down with my team tomorrow,” Murray began. “The U. S. Open is 6, 7 weeks away. We’ll come up with the best plan of action. If that’s taking a rest, or, yeah, we’ll do that tomorrow.”
“Be one thing if they hadn’t had a champion in 80 years and he lost,” Querrey later said, as reported by The New York Times. “But I don’t feel like I ruined the hopes of every British person.”
Querrey became the first American man to advance to the semifinals at Wimbledon since Andy Roddick in 2009. It is also Querrey’s first major semifinal.
“I’m still a little bit in shock,” Querrey told the BBC, immediately after the match. “I didn’t start [with] my best, but found a groove in the fourth and fifth. It’s a dream come true, though. And to have it be at Wimbledon makes it a bit more special.”
Djokovic, however, didn’t have the will or drive to extend the match as did Murray.
“I hadn’t considered not starting,” Djokovic said, as posted on Twitter by @MetroUK. “I always like to give it a shot, step on court and hope for the best. All I had today was hope.”
Djokovic was downtrodden about the retirement and his state of career affairs, “[I] haven’t felt this much pain,” he said, as Tweeted by Danielle Rossingh a freelance journalist at CNN Sport. “Its tough to swallow.”
With Murray, Djokovic and Nadal out, Federer is left carrying the mantel of The Big Four. He will be the oldest player to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon in 40 years, as well. Ken Rosewall had held that distinction.
Federer told the press that he was surprised that Murray, Djokovic and Nadal were out, but that margins are thin. “Others are playing well. Sometimes your body and mind need a rest. Don’t force it,” Bill Simons of Inside Tennis tweeted.
Federer is also the only one of that quartet who didn’t play the clay-court season. He planned that time off so he could peak at Wimbledon, his favorite major where he won his first Grand Slam in 2003.
“I was a little sad for not playing the French Open, but health is so much [more] important,” Simons tweeted. “I managed my schedule with care. [I] wanted to feel my best in second week of Wimbledon.”
Federer beat Raonic 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(4), in just under two hours. The first two sets finished before that big Rolex clock on Centre Court rung sixty minutes. He matched Raonic for aces at 11. He had zero double faults.
Raonic aggressively charged the net, but instead of pressuring Federer he set up opportunities. Deft drop shots and passing shots commonly became winners. Raonic, too, was not returning well. By the middle of the second set, he’d won only 5 of 33 return points.
“He’s just toying with Raonic,” John McEnroe exclaimed, calling the match for ESPN. “It’s just easy pickings for Federer.”
In one semifinal Friday, Cilic meets Querrey. They have a history. Querrey has never beaten the Croatian in their four meetings, but he sure tried in 2012 at Wimbledon. Their third-round match went five, with Cilic winning 17-15 in the fifth. The American has played three consecutive 5-set matches this year, so far.
“My body feels good,” Querrey told ESPN. “The five-setter [on grass] is a bit better. Points are shorter. Times on court are shorter. Cilic will be a tough one. Tomorrow I’ll practice and keep things easy.”
In the other semifinal, Federer will play Tomas Berdych. The smooth Czech is familiar with the deep end of a Wimbledon draw. He reached the semifinal last year, the quarterfinals in 2013, and was runner-up to Nadal in 2010. However, Berdych is 6-18 with Federer head-to-head. They met at The Australian Open in January, their latest scuffle at a Grand Slam. Federer eliminated him in straight sets.
Federer is the highest seed remaining: No. 3. With the courts’ playability a topic of discussion, especially the chewed up baselines and slippery fore courts, some have concluded that Wimbledon, again, has slowed down the surface. This is not true. Nothing has changed in the composition of maintenance of the lawns. The heat has fried the grass, quite simply. And with such big servers – Cilic, Querrey, Berdych — coming through to the semifinals, just the opposite argument can be made.
“The grass isn’t that slow,” Federer said, tweeted Simons. “Big servers are coming through, not the baseline grinders. The different style of play is being rewarded.”