Wimbledon: Federer's exit presents Murray with golden opportunity
For the second year in succession, Andy Murray has moved within two victories of becoming the first British man to win the Wimbledon singles title since Fred Perry in 1936.
Murray next has to face Rafael Nadal, the world No 1, but both men will go into their semi-final tomorrow knowing that Roger Federer will not be awaiting the winner after the six-times champion's run of seven successive appearances in the final was ended by Tomas Berdych.
Murray, who has gone one round further with every appearance here, matched his best run at the All England Club with a superb 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in yesterday's quarter-finals. In the previous match on Centre Court Federer had been beaten 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 by Berdych, who will meet Novak Djokovic in tomorrow's other semi-final after the Serb beat Yen-hsun Lu 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
Nadal, who is on a 12-match winning streak at the All England Club, having been unable to defend his 2008 title last year because of injury, beat Robin Soderling 3-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-1, despite losing the first five games. The Spaniard has won seven of his 10 meetings with Murray, but the Scot has won their last two matches in Grand Slam tournaments, at the 2008 US Open and at the Australian Open earlier this year. They have met once before at Wimbledon, Nadal having won in straight sets in the quarter-finals two years ago.
Murray's form should give him every reason for confidence. Although Tsonga became the first player to take a set off the world No 4 here this year, the Frenchman was eventually brushed aside by a superb Murray performance. Tsonga played an attacking game throughout, but Murray defended brilliantly and took command of the match after winning a tense second set tie-break.
"It was very difficult," Murray said. "He was going for huge shots and not giving me a rhythm. It's very difficult to know exactly how to play when someone's just going for broke on everything. I just had to hang in there. I managed to win that second set tie-break and I felt a lot better after that."
Murray will attempt tomorrow to end a nine-match losing streak by British men in the Wimbledon semi-finals. 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 Murray himself (2009) have all fallen at the penultimate hurdle.
Nadal said Murray would be a tough opponent. "It's a dream to be in the semi-finals here again," the Spaniard said. "I know I'm going to have a difficult match against Andy in the semi-final, but I'm ready to try my best."
Murray, who lost to Andy Roddick in last year's semi-finals, said Nadal would be the favourite given his past results here. "He obviously didn't get a chance to defend his title last year, but he's played three finals in a row and now he's in the semis," Murray said. "He's obviously a very tough player on any surface, but he plays great tennis here. Psychologically I need to believe that I can win the match. That's the most important thing."
Asked what he needed to do to beat the Spaniard, Murray said: "You need to serve well and you need to play great tennis. There's not one way to play against him. You don't want to leave the ball in the middle of the court to his forehand, because you'll do a lot of running."
It is a remarkable turnaround in Murray's fortunes, given his run since this year's Australian Open, where he lost to Federer in his second Grand Slam final, the Swiss having also beaten him in New York two years ago. Tomorrow will be the first semi-final Murray has played since then in any tournament.
Murray said Federer's defeat was "obviously surprising" but added: "There are so many great players around so it's tough." Murray said it would have no effect on his thoughts about his own chances of winning the title.
Between 2002 and the start of last month Federer had lost only once in 77 grass-court matches, but a defeat to Lleyton Hewitt in Germany last month hinted that all was not well with the Swiss, who said after his defeat to Berdych that he had been suffering from leg and back injuries. Berdych, who beat Murray in straight sets in the fourth round of last month's French Open, is through to his second successive Grand Slam semi-final.
It is the first time since 2002 that Federer has failed to reach the final here. Since losing to Mario Ancic in the first round eight years ago, he has played in the final a record seven times in succession, reinforcing his reputation as the greatest player in history. During that run his only defeat was against Nadal in the 2008 final.
Nadal appeared in danger of following Federer out of the tournament when he lost the first five games to Soderling, but after losing the first set the world No 1 took command. "It's very difficult to come back in a set when you're playing against a big server like Robin," Nadal said. "He started playing very well, hitting very long, with no mistakes, a lot of winners, serving great. I didn't have a lot of chances in the beginning. But after the first game of the second set, everything changed."
What plans did Murray have for the next 24 hours? "Just the usual: go home tonight, watch a bit of TV. You don't do anything. It's pretty boring. I'll come in tomorrow, practise around 1pm for an hour, hour and a half, and that's it. Take the dog for a walk. You don't do anything special or different. You just have to be as calm as possible."
Grand Slam semi-finals: Murray's record
Andy Murray has played in three previous Grand Slam semi-finals, winning two and losing one:
US Open 2008
Beat Rafael Nadal 6-2, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4
Lost to Andy Roddick 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6
Australian Open 2010
Beat Marian Cilic 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2
Murray v Nadal: Head-to-head
Nadal leads 7-3
The Spaniard won their only previous meeting on grass - a Wimbledon quarter-final two years ago.
The pair are level in Grand Slam meetings, with two wins apiece.
Murray won the only previous grand slam semi-final meeting with Nadal.