The words "not since Fred Perry" are safe in Wimbledon's lexicon for another 12 months. For the second year in succession Andy Murray's attempt to become Britain's first male champion here since Perry won the last of his three Wimbledon titles in 1936 ended in failure at the penultimate hurdle.
In yesterday's semi-finals Murray was beaten 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 by Rafael Nadal, the world No 1, who will meet the Czech Republic's Tomas Berdych, a straight-sets winner over Novak Djokovic, in tomorrow's final. Murray's defeat was much closer than the scoreline suggested, but the Scot paid a heavy price for a handful of mistakes at crucial stages of the match. Murray won 91 points in total, just seven fewer than Nadal.
"I'm very disappointed just now," Murray said within minutes of coming off Centre Court. "I had chances in all of the sets. I'm not coming here feeling like I played terribly. I didn't play a bad match at all. I've had some good wins against Rafa where I played great tennis. It's not like I played badly. He played great, and that was the difference."
Murray's defeat extended the losing streak by British men in the Wimbledon semi-finals to 10 matches. Since Bunny Austin reached the 1938 final, in which he lost to Donald Budge, Mike Sangster (1961), Roger Taylor (1967, 1970 and 1973), Tim Henman (1998, 1999, 2001 and 2002) and now Murray himself (2009 and 2010) have all fallen at the semi-final stage.
The world No 4 had been hoping to reach his third Grand Slam final, having lost to Roger Federer in the finals of both the 2008 US Open and this year's Australian Open. The fact that Federer had already been knocked out of this year's tournament will only increase his frustration, though there was no shame in losing to a player who at 24 is rapidly building a reputation as one of the finest players in history. Nadal will attempt tomorrow to win his eighth Grand Slam title.
Having become the first player in the modern era to make a clean sweep of the four biggest titles in the clay-court season, Nadal has now extended his remarkable run here. He has now made the final in four consecutive appearances at the All England Club, where his only defeats in 27 matches since 2005 have been in the 2006 and 2007 finals against Federer. The world No 1 missed Wimbledon last year through injury.
Nadal consoled Murray at the end of the match. "I wished him best of luck for the rest of the season, and said sorry for today," the Spaniard said. "I know it was an important match for him because he was playing at home and this was a chance for him to win probably the most important title for him here at home in Wimbledon.
"I felt sorry for him because he's a very nice person, a very good person. I am sure he's going to win a Grand Slam very soon, because when you have made the final in the US Open and the Australian Open and the semi-finals here this year and last year, you're there all the time. One day you will win. I am sure he's going to win one. He deserves to."
Murray will hope that he recovers more quickly from his other great disappointment this year, when he lost to Federer in the final of the Australian Open. This was the first semi-final he had reached in nine subsequent tournaments and he has yet to win a title this year. After a long run through the clay and grass-court seasons Murray plans to take a break before reappearing on the American hard-court circuit, with next month's Toronto Masters likely to be his next tournament appearance.
Did he think he might now suffer a slump similar to the one he went through earlier this year? "I have no idea. Just because it happened to me once, whether it was to do with the loss in Australia, whether it was down to other things going on, you never know. But I work hard and I hope it doesn't happen again. I've normally played well in the American hard-court stretch after Wimbledon. Hopefully, I'll play well again now."
He added: "A few weeks ago no one would have given me much hope of getting to the semis because I wasn't playing well. Then I played a good tournament. Right now I'm very disappointed at the match today, but I'll look back at the tournament as a whole in a few weeks as a good one, just not great."
The Scot said that the weight of the nation's expectations had weighed on his shoulders. "There's a lot of pressure playing here, but it doesn't affect the outcome of the matches," he said. "It's not a valid excuse to make. I've played really well the whole tournament. I obviously want to win for myself. I want to win for the guys I work with. I want to win for the UK. It's a little bit more disappointing than other Grand Slams because this one is the biggest one of the year for me. It's tough."
Murray said he hoped Nadal would beat Berdych tomorrow. "I love watching him play," Murray said. "He's my favourite player to watch. That's why I enjoy playing him so much. So I hope he wins."
The Curse of Beckham?
Having watched from the dugout as England's footballers crashed out of the World Cup finals, David Beckham wasted little time in making other sporting arrangements, watching Murray live on Centre Court yesterday with his eldest son Brooklyn, seated just behind Murray's entourage. Best steer clear of the Open, David.