Lightning Querrey strikes twice at Wimbledon: This time beating defending champion Andy Murray
Sam Querrey books his place in the semi-finals of Wimbledon by beating defending champion Andy Murray
The quarter-final line-up in the men’s draw certainly posed many questions, key among them being how the four Major champions, three of them Wimbledon champions, would handle some of the biggest serving in tennis.
No7 seed Marin Cilic faced the ever-improving No16 seed Gilles Muller, whose powerful tennis, especially his serve-and-volley prowess, had cut a swathe through the grass season to win more on this surface than any other man. Muller impressed hugely in his marathon win over Rafael Nadal in the quarters.
Three-time Wimbledon champion and No2 seed Novak Djokovic took on the big Czech and former finalist, Tomas Berdych. Not that Djokovic needed to be too perturbed: He had lost only two matches in 27 previous meetings. One of Berdych’s wins had been on his way to that solitary final here in 2010, but Djokovic had got the better of him in their 2013 rematch, and had not lost to him their 11 matches since.
Seven-time champion Roger Federer had to take on the man who beat him here in the semis last year, Milos Raonic. The No6 seeded Canadian, the next highest-ranked man of the remaining eight, stands 6ft 5in tall, has a sledgehammer serve, and won both their matches last year. This would be their first since their three-and-a-half-hour marathon here last year.
But the defending champion Andy Murray’s task was as big as any of them. Sam Querrey may be ranked only 28, but the 6ft 6in American liked nothing better than plying his big serving game on grass. He proved that last year with his third-round win over the then No1 and defending champion Djokovic, and went on to reach his first quarter-final here. Now he was into this second, and had battled through back-to-back five-setters to do so. Perhaps that would take its toll against the super-fit Murray.
The Briton had certainly dominated their previous meetings, winning seven of the eight, and the two-time champion was rising to his home challenge with his usual grit and flair. In truth, though, 2017 had not thus far been his most successful season, hit as he was by shingles and an elbow injury, and carrying the fatigue of a blistering 2016 that had earned him nine titles from 13 finals as well as the No1 ranking.
That top spot was now up for grabs if he did not perform at a his best this week. A win today would do it—for the time being at least. But should he lose to Querrey, and big rival Djokovic go on to claim the title, the Serb would rise back to No1.
Over the years, Murray had proved consistently resilient at his home Major. He had reached the semis in seven of the last eight years, this would be his 10th consecutive quarter-final, and he trailed only Federer in grass-court match-wins.
If there was one big concern ahead of the tournament, it was his hip. Just days before his first match, he was hobbling during practice, but assured fans and media that if he was fit enough to start the event, he was fit enough to finish it. Certainly as he progressed through the rounds, he looked better and better, surviving a lively four-setter against Fabio Fognini and ending up thus far with considerably less time on court than Querrey.
It all started well, too. The Briton sailed to a 3-0 lead with a quick break, and although Querrey’s serve began to groove better with each game, Murray held his lead for the set, 6-3, after just half an hour.
The second swung in the opposite direction as Querrey began to hit the mark with 130mph aces, and although it was Murray who broke first with a cracking backhand winner and a superb lob, the American broke straight back, 4-4, held, and broke again courtesy of a blistering backhand winner, 6-4.
Murray wrenched back control in the third set, breaking straight away, maintaining his lead with a love hold at 4-2, and pulling off a great running backhand pass to hold for 5-3. But Querrey kept his cool, held to love, and then broke with his own backhand winner, and they headed to a tie-break.
Now Murray seemed to find a new surge of energy, defended superbly to draw a Querrey smash into the net, and opened a 6-1 lead. Querrey aced twice, but Murray made no mistake in holding, 7-6(4), after two hours of play.
But after an initial hold of serve in the fourth, Murray’s slight limp earlier in the match became more pronounced, and his serving went off the boil. Had he tweaked his hip during that feisty defence?
It quickly became clear that not all was right with the Briton and he did not win another game in the set, 6-1. Querrey continued to dominate, raining down big serves and forcing Murray wide to the backhand. He went out to a 3-0 lead—nine games in a row—before Murray survived more deuces to hold for 1-3. But that would be it.
It became painful viewing for British fans, though Murray continued the chase one last time. But it was also admirable from Querrey, who did not blink in serving out the match, 6-1, with his 27th ace.
During those final two sets, the American had won all 22 first service points, an indication not just of his good serving but that one of the best returners in the game was also far from his best, and that his No1 ranking of seven months’ duration is nearing its end.
Not that Murray was overly upset at the prospect: He had already accepted that, with an almost unbeaten final six months in 2016, he would be challenged this year sooner or later.
“I mean, it was going to happen at some stage. I don’t think anyone has ever stayed at No1 their whole career. It always comes to an end. I haven’t played well enough this year to deserve to stay there for much longer. If it doesn’t happen by the end of this tournament, it will happen by the end of the US Open.
“That’s fine. Obviously I would rather be ranked No1 than 2, 3 or 4. I go away now and try and find a way to get back there.”
It could now happen as soon as Monday if Djokovic wins the title.
For all that Murray now faces a tough few weeks as he tries to rehab his hip—and he was still uncertain about what that may involve—it was a special day for Querrey. He became the first American into a Major semi since Andy Roddick, right here in 2009, and the first player to win three straight five-setters at Wimbledon since 2007.
If he is to break further new ground, he will next have to beat Cilic, who beat Muller 3-6, 7-6(6), 7-5, 5-7, 6-1. But for now, he can revel in the knowledge that, for two straight Wimbledon’s, he has beaten the defending champion and world No1 at a stroke—and not many men, in this era of such dominance by ‘the big four’, can say that.