Since finding his form in late 2014 following back surgery and his split with coach Ivan Lendl, Andy Murray’s last 18 months have revolved around the quest of finding a way to get through Novak Djokovic to win another Slam.
Murray returned to elite form in 2015, but four of his last six Slam losses have come at the hands of Djokovic, with defeats to a flawless Roger Federer and a career day from Kevin Anderson sandwiched between. With Lendl back in his camp though, the pursuit of Djokovic got a second wind.
The notoriously straight-laced Lendl has no time for Murray’s midmatch walkabouts or nonsensical struggles against inferior opposition, and frankly neither does Murray himself at 29 years old. Speaking on Djokovic’s bid for the Calendar Year Grand Slam, Lendl had said, “Obviously Andy and I would like to ruin those plans if we can.” The message was clear: the time is now to chase him down.
And then suddenly, the unpredictability of sports reared its head: As Murray was facing John Millman on Centre Court on Saturday, Sam Querrey, career underachiever, ousted Djokovic over on Court 1. Following the scoreboards flashing the news and people on the grounds going into cheers, Murray was broken serving for the second set. Coincidence? Possibly, but no one could blame him if it wasn’t. Regardless, he promptly recovered and won in straights.
Murray, perpetually the “little brother” in the Big Four, now faces a completely different career-defining crucible in London than the one that was anticipated, as he goes from hunter to hunted.
Djokovic has shaped much of Murray’s career, and the shadow of his presence will still be felt even in his absence: the Scot is now the favorite to win the tournament, a pressure he’s never held before at a Grand Slam. Furthermore, should Federer lose before the final (a 50/50 bet at worst, given possible matches against Marin Cilic and a streaking Milos Raonic), Murray would at last, after 10 major finals, be competing for a major trophy against someone other than Djokovic or Federer.
Now, Murray is no stranger to pressure at Wimbledon, but everything leading up to 2013 was more about his country. 2016 is about his legacy. Factor in his wide open draw (a potential Monday meeting with Nick Kyrgios seems to be the only obstacle in his half), and for the first and possibly only time, it will be something of a failure if Murray is not the last man standing on Championship Sunday.
With Lendl in his corner and Djokovic out (but not for long), this is the time for Grand Slam #3. A long-standing hypothetical question is how many Slams Murray would have won had he played in an era without Federer, Djokovic or Rafael Nadal (or at least not all three at the same time). The next week will provide the closest thing we’ll likely ever get to an answer.
— Following his loss, Djokovic said he will not be playing against Murray’s Great Britain team in Davis Cup later this month.
— The favorites all came through on the men’s side: Kei Nishikori and Cilic won in straights to book their fourth-round clash and Milos Raonic won convincingly over Jack Sock. He’ll play David Goffin in the round of 16, with the winner being a heavy favorite to reach the semifinals.
— Aga Radwanska was brilliant and Dominika Cibulkova comfortably ended Genie Bouchard’s mini-resurgence. They’ll meet in the fourth round.
— Simona Halep and Madison Keys impressively overcame tough tests to set up a blockbuster meeting, while Angie Kerber and Timea Bacsinszky survived bumpy starts.
— Sloane Stephens finished her comeback that started on Friday, beating Mandy Minella 8-6 in the third set. Also making an “overtime” comeback was Lucie Safarova, who outlasted Jana Cepelova (who had beaten Garbine Muguruza) 12-10 in the final set.
— Two annual Wimbledon threats bowed out: Petra Kvitova was outplayed by Ekaterina Makarova while Sabine Lisicki disappointingly faded away in the second after dropping a first set tiebreaker.
Middle Sunday matches
The constant rain forced play into the Middle Sunday holiday. Matches on tap include:
— Continuations of Isner-Tsonga, Pouille-del Potro and Gasquet-Ramos (each player listed first leads two sets to one) and Kyrgios-Lopez (even at a set apiece).
— Tomas Berdych vs Sascha Zverev, who came through on Saturday in a fifth set following back issues on Friday.
— Serena Williams vs Annika Beck, Roberta Vinci vs Coco Vandeweghe, Bacsinszky vs Anastasia Pavyluchenkova, and Stephens vs Svetlana Kuznetsova headline a light women’s schedule.