After this most tumultuous and savagely unpredictable of summers it was reassuring to find a national institution on which Britain can rely.
This was supposed to be the toughest test of Andy Murray’s Wimbledon so far. Instead it became a dazzling a concerto of his talents, which appear to be widening even as his 30th birthday looms into distant view.
Long before the end his opponent, Nick Kyrgios, looked beaten and beaten up, unable to cope with the physical and psychological squeeze being exerted from the other side of the net. Another Australian, the country’s legendary cricket captain Steve Waugh, had the right phrase for what Centre Court had witnessed: mental disintegration.
As they hugged at the net, Murray said one word to him: “Sorry.” Kyrgios replied: “That’s all right‚ now just go and win the tournament.”
But the beating continued to go on during the post‑match press conference as Kyrgios gave a coruscating verdict on his display. “It was a good first set, the rest of the match was pretty pathetic,” he said. “I was really comfortable out there in the first set and I believed I could win the match but after I lost the first set I felt like I had a mountain to climb.”
The self-analysis quickly became even more withering. “I’m really soft still. When things get tough I am a little bit soft.” He was then asked whether he was really applying everything in his gut and heart to becoming the best he could be. “No. I don’t really love the sport but I don’t know what else to do. I woke up this morning and played computer games. Is that the greatest preparation? I don’t know.”
There were also more public signs that Kyrgios’s mind might not be on the job when he turned up to watch his Davis Cup captain, Lleyton Hewitt, play doubles on Court 18 two hours before he was due to play on Centre Court. Initially, though, he matched Murray, blow for fearsome blow.
At 2-3 and 30-30 in the first set, Kyrgios’s serve faced its first test. He responded with an ace out wide followed by a thunderous serve and forehand down the line. Then at 3-4, the Australian found himself in more bother at 0-30. But the surge of adrenaline appeared to weaponise his serve further – he smashed a 138mph ace past Murray, followed by another one out wide to hold again.
Then he was given a sniff at 4-4 on Murray’s serve – only to thump a weak second serve at 30-30 into the net. “Weak! Weak! Weak!” he cried. But it was just the start. With the first set in the balance at 5-5 Kyrgios tried mixing things up by chipping and charging the Murray serve. Murray responded with a vicious groundstroke which forced a defensive volley – and then smashing the follow-up at his opponent. Kyrgios smiled and stuck his tongue out. The reaction of Ivan Lendl, Murray’s stony‑faced coach, was more telling. He applauded. He wanted blood, not laughs.
Perhaps that shot sent Kyrgios a message because in the next game the Australian played poorly, spluttering a makeable volley into the net to lose his serve and the set. It put him in a tailspin of a funk which he could not shake off.
But as the second set progressed it was not only Kyrgios’s mind that was in turmoil: his groundstrokes also went through one of their periodic malfunctions. They were going long and short, wide and into the net, especially during the more important points. The gunslinger had become gun-shy.
After another forehand error early in the second set – already his seventh – he started sarcastically telling himself “Wow! Wow!” and then followed it up by sending another groundstroke wild and wide.
Kyrgios had taken a set off Murray at the US Open last year and beaten him at the Hopman Cup in January but there was no chance of a repeat for while his body was on Centre Court, his mind already looked as if it wanted to be in the locker room. Murray was happy to give it another nudge, sealing the second set with an ace in 26 minutes. And while Kyrgios’s play improved marginally in the third, Murray has rarely been more dominant against someone so dangerous, blitzing 36 winners off his racket to six unforced errors. Towards the end Kyrgios had a friendly exchange with a ball boy about his towel. He must have been highly tempted to pick it up and throw it in front of the umpire as an act of surrender.
Just before the finish Kyrgios did not bother to sit in his chair at the changeover but stayed out, a lamb to the slaughter. Murray quickly ended his suffering, powering an ace to progress into the 20th quarter-final of the past 21 grand slam events he has entered.
Kyrgios, meanwhile, was left fending off more questions about whether the effort he displayed against Murray was shaming his vast talent. After Murray broke him in the final set he appeared to hold his hands in prayer. That alone, though, is clearly not going to save him.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010