Wimbledon: Murray's challenge hampered as Federer and Djokovic enjoy rest day
When Andy Murray draws up his Christmas card list, the members of Wimbledon's order of play sub- committee are unlikely to be on it.
The scheduling of Murray's fourth-round match here yesterday against Marin Cilic on Court One seemed an odd decision from the moment it was announced on Saturday evening. When play was called off for the day because of rain with Murray leading 7-5, 3-1, it must have left the world No 4's supporters wondering whether the All England Club really has the best interests of Britain's finest player at heart.
As Murray waited in vain for the weather to relent, his two biggest rivals for the title went through to the quarter-finals after winning on Centre Court. Roger Federer, who played the opening match, was no doubt feeling grateful for the chance of a day's rest today after suffering a back injury in beating Xavier Malisse, while Novak Djokovic progressed by beating Viktor Troicki under the retractable roof.
Murray and Cilic, meanwhile, have to return to Court One at noon today, knowing that whoever makes the quarter-finals will have to play three days in a row. If they felt a sense of injustice, it might have been heightened by the order of play for today, when more bad weather is forecast. In the quarter-finals, Murray or Cilic will play David Ferrer or Juan Martin del Potro, who were scheduled last on Court One yesterday but will now open today's programme on Centre Court.
The All England Club decided not to move Murray to Centre Court either today or last night, when the final match under the roof ended before 8pm, when another three hours of play would have been possible. While matches usually begin and end on the same court, there have been instances when they have been moved mid-match and there appears to be scope within the Grand Slam rulebook for that to be done.
Yesterday's weather was always expected to deteriorate in the afternoon, yet Murray and Cilic were not even scheduled as the first match. While Federer opened proceedings on Centre Court, Murray was second on Court One. There was already drizzle in the air when play started at 3.43pm and by 4.52pm it was heavy enough to send the players off. Play was eventually abandoned just before 8pm.
The order of play is often a bone of contention and tournament officials need thick skins. It is rarely possible to please everybody and it was easy to see the reasoning behind yesterday's scheduling, which was designed to ensure that today's women's quarter-final line-up was completed and to be fair to the two halves of the men's draw.
Players who will meet in the subsequent round are usually scheduled on court at about the same time, so that one will not have the benefit of more rest than his next opponent. Murray and Cilic are at least in the same boat as all the other players in the bottom half of the draw, in that none of their matches have been completed yet.
Nevertheless, Richard Gasquet and Florian Mayer would have reason to feel aggrieved at yesterday's scheduling after their match was rained off early in the second set. The winner faces Djokovic in the quarter-finals tomorrow.
If one player was handed such an advantage, why Djokovic ahead of Murray? While trying to be fair to as many parties as possible might be a commendable trait, it is hard to imagine any of the other three Grand Slam tournaments not bending over backwards to help a home player just three wins away from a place in the final.
A spokesman for the All England Club said last night: "The day has finished as scheduled. There are a number of matches that remain incompleted. The problems associated with moving matches between courts, such as the stewarding and the wish not to play another late night, all conspired to say our best option is to come back tomorrow. It is a traditional daytime, outdoor event. We have had four late nights already. We could go on to five or six. We have to draw the line somewhere and this is it."
Cilic, nevertheless, might have been grateful for the respite. After winning the second longest match in Wimbledon history at five hours and 31 minutes on Saturday, the 23-year-old Croatian still looked to be suffering from his exertions during a first set against Murray which was littered with errors from both men. With rain in the air, the temperature just 15C and a swirling breeze, the conditions were not conducive to free-flowing tennis.
Murray was broken in the opening game after missing two forehands in a row, but levelled to 2-2 as Cilic made a succession of mistakes. Three games later, Murray pointed out to the umpire that the surface was becoming slippery, but they played on.
The set went with serve until Murray turned up the heat when Cilic served at 5-6. He went 0-15 up with a well-constructed point from the baseline, 0-30 with a clever lob and 0-40 with a splendid forehand cross-court return winner. On the first set point, Cilic put a forehand wide under pressure from Murray, who bellowed out a cry of "Yes!"
Murray, whose returns were starting to look sharper, broke again in the fourth game of the second set to lead 3-1. Two successive service winners put him 40-0 up in the following game, but by then the rain was starting to fall more heavily and the umpire called the players off court.