LONDON — What did they expect from Andy Murray? That he was another Roger Federer or Pete Sampras?
That he was going to repeat as Wimbledon winner?
That because the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were at Centre Court, screaming and grimacing, “Our Andy” was going to smack his way to another Wimbledon title? Or at the least another final?
Did you watch what the Denver Broncos did in the Super Bowl? That’s what Andy Murray did Wednesday in his Wimbledon quarterfinal. Nothing.
He started awful and stayed that way. He walked off telling the media, “I need to go away and make a lot of improvements in my game.”
He disappointed. He was terrible. He let down himself and let down all those fanatics attired like British flags.
“Then in flies a guy who's all dressed up like a Union Jack..." A lyric from the Rolling Stones. A bit of reality in the stands or up on the hill where those without tickets watch a huge TV screen.
It’s known as “Murray Mount.” And, oh was it chock-full of fans in red, white and blue, fans that had been desperate and then became disillusioned.
“Come on, Andy,” they shrieked. To no avail.
Murray, their guy, the one who last year ended 77 years of British silence by winning the Wimbledon men’s singles, couldn’t even win a set against Grigor Dimitrov.
He was battered, 6-1, 7-6, 6-2, by a 23-year-old Bulgarian best known as the pal of Maria Sharapova.
“Boyfriend aims to be main man,” was the headline in The Independent. He became just that.
Murray simply became a lost soul.
“I’ve lost a couple of matches the last few Slams in straight sets,” said Murray. Actually, just the French, in the semis, to Rafael Nadal, and this Wimbledon.
“You know you’ve played poorly,” he conceded. “I need to get myself in better shape and work harder, because everyone’s getting better.”
For two hours and one minute Wednesday, Murray seemed to be getting worse.
He was the champion in 2013. He was a finalist in 2012. He was a semifinalist in 2011, 2010 and 2009. Now, he’s a 27-year-old Scot who has to wonder what went wrong because almost nothing went right.
“Wimbledon Heartbreak! Kate and Wills watch as defending champ Andy Murray crashes out,” the early edition of the Daily Express trumpeted, alluding to the Duchess and Duke.
As proper, Murray and Dimitrov bowed as they left the court—after Murray figuratively bowed to Dimitrov.
“I lost the match today,” said a visibly discouraged Murray. “He was the better player from start to finish. I should have done better at the beginning.”
The pressure on Murray each match at Wimbledon is heavy. The papers, tabloids and broadsheets, the BBC and Sky News cover the man more intently than they do the queen. Almost as intently as they cover Premier League soccer (or football, if you will).
“But to be honest,” he insisted, “I handled the pressure fine. I mean I started the tournament well. I was playing good tennis. Today was a bad day. I think I hit maybe one backhand winner the entire match, which isn’t normally what I do—especially on this surface.
“In terms of expectation, the pressure, it was no different to any of the other years.”
Murray deep down thought he would be in another final. That’s normal. Great athletes, great teams don’t succeed without confidence that borders on arrogance. If they don’t believe, who will?
“It’s a high-skill sport,” he reminded. “Your timing is slightly off, that can make a huge difference. It’s an individual sport. You can wake up, and the ball doesn’t feel as good on the racket as it did two days beforehand. That’s one of the things that makes it extremely challenging. It’s one of the things I enjoy about it. You never know how you’re going to feel.
“But I’m just disappointed that today was one of those days and I couldn’t find a way to get better during the match.”
Without anyone asking, Murray, who will drop from No. 5 in the rankings to No. 10—an explanation is too confusing, but he loses points from last year’s Wimbledon win—talked of what is ahead.
For him and the others.
“I’m saying I don’t feel that I’ve improved so much since Wimbledon last year,” he observed. “I think I’ve played some very good tennis but also some ordinary stuff at times.
“Yeah, if you play against a player like (Nick) Kyrgios or Dimitrov or (Milos) Raonic and don’t play well, it’s tough to win those matches now, whereas when they’re younger and a bit inexperienced you can still find ways to come through them. Now it’s tough to do that."
When someone wondered if his best tennis was still to come, Murray answered, “I don’t know, but if I’m going to play better tennis than I am just now, the only way is by working harder, getting on the practice court, than I have done the past 12 months.”
Times change in tennis, and quickly. In a space of 24 hours on Centre Court, three former Wimbledon champions—Nadal, Sharapova and Murray—all were losers.
“Sometimes,” said Murray, “you just have to take it on the chin and move on.”
The issue is what direction is Andy Murray moving: forward or back?
Art Spander, an award-winning columnist, has covered more than 50 Grand Slams in his career. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.