It's been smooth sailing so far for Andy Murray at Wimbledon 2014, but he will have to avoid a lapse in his laser-like focus if he is to defeat Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinals.
Murray has done well to concentrate on his game and put some of the poor play from his uneven 2014 campaign behind him. Murray was 27-11 in singles play coming into Wimbledon and 0-4 versus top-10 opponents.
Coming to a familiar environment might seem comforting to many observers, but this hasn't been the case for Murray for many years.
When Murray plays at Wimbledon, he represents the United Kingdom, not just his native Scotland. He's the home-island hero in an always-diverse draw at the All England Club. The outsized expectations make him particularly vulnerable to the stresses of playing tennis at the highest levels of the game.
He finally broke through in London by winning Wimbledon 2013 after so many agonizing failures and near misses. His victory was the first for a British man at this esteemed major in 77 years.
With no England to cheer for in the World Cup, all eyes will be on Murray.
Then again, Murray may not even feel the pressure anymore. Last year's victory has allowed Wimbledon to become a sanctuary of sorts.
"Nowadays it is a place I like going to because it is quiet. I like to go to Wimbledon to practise sometimes, or just to be there. It is quiet. It is a place where I can go and I don’t get bothered. I can think here," said Murray, via the Daily Mail's Mike Dickson.
His play in this tournament has certainly reflected his growing feelings for the All England Club.
Murray has yet to drop a set in four rounds of play so far at Wimbledon. The closest he's come to losing a set was 7-6 (8-6) in the third set against No. 20 Kevin Anderson in the fourth round.
The Times' Neil Harman commented on the nature of Murray's shots in this match:
He's been remarkably efficient, winning 83 percent of his first-serve points and leading all men's singles players with 24 break points won, as per Wimbledon.com.
The Guardian's Jacob Steinberg noticed that a cool, almost tranquil demeanor has replaced Murray's usual anguished antics:
But there's been none of that this week, no visceral, gut-wrenching Andy Murray rollercoaster. Has he mellowed? Is he all about the quiet life these days? The Wimbledon champion has looked utterly relaxed in these surroundings so far, muscling David Goffin off court in the first round and then breezing past Blaz Rola in the second round, a doddle of a match that lasted 84 minutes.
That sounds like a concentrated player, impervious to early-round pressure. Or maybe it's just nice to have former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson in your corner, via Wimbledon's official Twitter account:
It's clear Murray has been more than up to his daunting task in the first week of play. That being said, he is aware that Dimitrov poses a great threat to him in this tournament. Said Murray, via Harvey Araton of The New York Times:
He’s a more mature player now. I mean, watching him play, his strokes and stuff, technically he hasn’t made many changes to his game. But he’s playing higher percentage tennis, making better decisions. That adds up to winning many more matches.
Murray saw some of that maturity firsthand in his last match against Dimitrov. The 23-year-old Bulgarian defeated Murray 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3) on a hard court in the Abierto Mexicano Telcel tournament in early 2014.
Dimitrov is 30-9 with three titles in 2014. His tournament run hasn't been quite as uneventful as Murray's, but he has shown a similar knack for improbable shots, via SportsCenter's Twitter account:
As the first Bulgarian male to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals, Dimitrov has his own set of national expectations to bear. Dimitrov's smooth playing style and focus on baseline play will present a challenge to Murray, who will have to utilize an accurate serve and try to force Dimitrov into early errors to throw him off his game.
If Murray can defeat Dimitrov, it sets up a likely semifinal meeting with Novak Djokovic. This would be a dramatic follow-up to the 2013 Wimbledon final, which Murray won over Djokovic in straight sets.
The superb Serbian is 9-0 against Marin Cilic, his quarterfinal opponent, so it's fair to say he's the likely victor in that contest.
A matchup of this caliber would be a huge draw for Wimbledon, and the tournament winner could very well be the player who emerges from that match.