Wimbledon 2013: Andy Murray pushed to limit by Fernando Verdasco but battles back to reach semi-finals at SW19
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson watched from the royal box as Andy Murray made one of his most remarkable recoveries to secure a place in the Wimbledon semi-finals for the fifth year in a row.
Given that Ferguson was also in Murray's corner when he won his maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open last year, the world No 2 must be hoping that this visit to Centre Court will not be his last.
Murray's 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Fernando Verdasco was his seventh win from two sets down and was reminiscent of his back-from-the-dead victory over Richard Gasquet on the same court five years ago. As the crowd's excitement rose to fever pitch, the Scot responded magnificently to fight his way back into contention and hold his nerve when the going got tough.
The atmosphere in the stadium brought back memories of his exploits here in last summer's Olympics and on more than one occasion Pascal Maria, the umpire, had to appeal for quiet during points.
Murray, who now faces a semi-final on Friday against Poland's Jerzy Janowicz, had warned that Verdasco would be a dangerous opponent and the former world No 7 rolled back the years with a formidable display of big serving and ferocious ball-striking that belied his current ranking at No 54. Even after Murray had levelled the match at two sets apiece the 29-year-old Spaniard pushed his opponent to the limit.
"He really went for it and he served extremely well," Murray said afterwards. "He's been serving big the whole tournament. A lot of his serves were very close to the line on big points. He was going out to the lines and came up with some huge serves on big moments throughout the whole match.
"Because of that serve he's able to dictate points with his forehand. Once I was able to get into the rallies and return a bit better I was able to take away the power or strength of his forehand. But when he was serving well he could serve and dictate the points with his forehand. When he's doing that, he's incredibly tough to beat."
Verdasco served at speeds of up to 136mph, which was 5mph faster than Murray, and was even more effective with his swinging serves out wide to the Scot's backhand.
The Spaniard's power had Murray on the back foot for much of the first two sets. With his opponent playing well behind the baseline, Verdasco was able to take huge swings at the ball with his forehand. Whether or not it was down to continuing problems with his back, which he clutched from time to time, Murray appeared to be striking the ball with less venom than usual.
While Verdasco had to save break points in the third and ninth games, Murray had not appeared to be in any trouble until he served at 4-5 and 30-30. Verdasco created set point with a superb inside-out forehand winner, upon which Murray double-faulted.
The Scot looked furious with himself at the changeover, during which he conducted a heated argument with nobody in particular. He came out in a much more aggressive mood at the start of the second set and bellowed a roar of celebration when he broke to lead 2-1, only for Verdasco to break back three games later. From 15-30 Murray put a routine volley into the net and then hit a careless forehand beyond the baseline, upon which he slammed a ball away in anger.
Two games later Verdasco broke again when his backhand clipped the top of the net and cruelly toppled over on to Murray's side of the court. Verdasco went 0-40 down when he served for the set, but the Spaniard won the next five points and the set.
Once again Murray sat on his chair between sets screaming in anguish: "What are you doing?" When he missed a simple volley on game point at the start of the third set you wondered whether this was not going to be Murray's day, but he is a fighter who never knows when he is beaten. Playing further up the court, the Scot denied Verdasco the time to hit his forehands and broke serve in the second and sixth games before serving out for the set.
The momentum seemed to be with Murray, but the fourth set was much tighter as the Scot again retreated behind the baseline. He saved two break points in both the second and fourth games with big serves before making the only break to lead 4-3. Three games later he served out for the set.
If anyone expected Verdasco to crumble in the decider, the Spaniard quickly disappointed them. Murray served his way out of trouble from 3-4 and 0-30 down before making the decisive breakthrough at 5-5. Having forced a break point after a sensational 20-stroke rally, he converted it by forcing Verdasco into a forehand error.
"The second set was a bad set of tennis for me," Murray said. "I was 3-1 up and then made some bad mistakes, poor choices on the court. Then I turned it round really well after that. I thought about what I was doing wrong and the best way to get myself to get back into the match. I changed tactics a little bit and was more patient and took a bit longer between points. I didn't rush and didn't give him any free points after that."
After the Scot had served out for victory, the crowd on Centre Court broke out into a chant of "Andy! Andy!" It was a performance to remember for everyone lucky enough to have witnessed it.
Final hurdles: Andy Murray in last four
2009 Lost Success at Queen's inspired the Scot to reach the last four for the first time. Despite a gutsy performance, Murray could not keep pace with American Andy Roddick, losing in four sets.
2010 Lost After beating beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters Murray faded against French Open champion and world No 1 Rafa Nadal, going down in straight sets.
2011 Lost Nadal was again Murray's nemesis, allowing the Scot the opening set before accelerating away to reach the final.
2012 Won Fourth time lucky, Tsonga beaten in four sets as Murray became the first Briton to make the final in 74 years. A tearful Murray was beaten by Roger Federer in that finale.
Belfast Telegraph Digital