Andy Murray said that winning at Wimbledon last year finally allows him to have fun at the hallowed London courts. He's sure playing like it.
Murray earned his fourth straight decisive victory at the All England Club, defeating Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) to advance to the quarterfinals on Monday. Murray has now reached a career-high 14 consecutive quarterfinals in Grand Slam events in which he's participated.
The Scot, whose win also clinched a seventh straight quarterfinal at Wimbledon, dominated the match after a close first set. He won 81 percent of his first-serve points and struck 11 aces, overpowering Anderson with a series of well-struck and beautifully placed shots.
Though he'd advanced to the fourth round in a series of straight-sets wins, Murray in certain instances looked to be playing his best tennis of the last year on Monday. He made only 12 unforced errors against 49 winners, displaying a precision and controlled pace to his game that has been lacking for much of the season.
It all proved too much for Anderson, the 28-year-old South African making his first round of 16 appearance in London. He seemed overwhelmed at points by Murray's return game and struggled to merely win half of his first serves.
In the first set, Anderson managed to stay in the contest via some good luck on second serves. He won roughly two thirds of his second-service points and avoided breaks three different times to hold his serve. Murray eventually got over the hump late in the set, though, and it was the last time Anderson looked like he had a legitimate shot.
The second set featured only one thing that could halt Murray's momentum: a rain delay. For the second time Monday, a downpour caused a slight delay in the afternoon action as the crew worked to get the roof closed. Down 3-0 going into the delay, Anderson managed to salvage some momentum by breaking Murray on his first serve after play resumed.
The momentum wouldn't last long.
Murray righted the ship, and the two traded off service points until his third break of the set put Anderson away at 6-3. At issue again was Murray's ability to close off break chances. He went 3-of-10 in the second set, making what could have been an easy blowout a little harder than it needed to be. Anderson's break after the weather delay was his only one of the match.
The issues with breaks again showed up in the third. Ahead 4-3 with opportunities to break and then serve for the match, Murray made multiple gaffes at deuce and with advantage to keep Anderson alive. When Anderson finished off the game with a couple well-placed balls, fans at centre court saw one of a few outward displays of frustration from the defending champ.
But, again, the momentum was only minimal. With neither side able to complete a successful break, the pair went into a deciding tiebreaker that gave the match to Murray. Down 6-5 after a valiant comeback effort, he closed out with three consecutive points to close out the game and match, 8-6.
Up next for Murray is the winner of 11th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov and Leonardo Mayer, which is currently ongoing. Murray holds a 3-1 lifetime record against the likely winner Dimitrov, but the rising Bulgarian pulled a three-set upset in their last contest. Assuming he advances, this will be Dimitrov's second quarterfinal at a Grand Slam this season.
Murray is undefeated in two matches against the underdog Mayer.
No matter which player advances, he will be at a distinct disadvantage against Murray. Dating back to his 2012 Olympic title, he's won 17 straight matches at Wimbledon. The grass courts have long been a favorite for Murray, but the gold medal seems to have unlocked an unbridled confidence. Speaking to reporters before the match, Murray indicated that the two wins at the All England Club have helped him positively channel pressure.
“I had worked very hard for a long time in order to get myself into a position where I was able to win the Championship," Murray told reporters. "Obviously I’m still feeling the pressure and the nerves, but this year they are completely different. I like having the nerves and I’m able to use them positively.”
Murray will need to channel that positive energy more and more as the tournament goes on. Being placed in Novak Djokovic's draw was a stroke of bad luck. When choosing between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on grass, Murray likely would have much rather had the nine-time French Open champion. Nadal came into London having failed to reach the third round in his past two Wimbledon tries, while it was Djokovic who played Murray in the final and has reached at least semis every year since 2010.
Still, it's hard to bet against this version of Murray with an entire country at his back. Last year, the crowd seemed to have a near-hypnotic effect in the final. Murray, playing the match of his life. Djokovic, going down in straight sets versus a player he'd beaten their previous three head-to-head matches.
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