Relaxed, confident and with the draw parting before him like the Red Sea, Andy Murray has insisted he feels no extra pressure as a result of Novak Djokovic’s exit leaving him as favourite to win the Wimbledon title for a second time.
Before Wednesday’s quarter-final meeting with the Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Murray underlined the extent to which more than a decade of Wimbledon appearances had left him entirely inured to external pressure.
“What the bookies say is completely irrelevant. Since I’ve been playing Wimbledon the last 10 years, I’d probably say seven or eight of those years, the expectation has been extremely high and the pressure’s been unbelievably high,” said Murray, who swatted Nick Kyrgios aside with such ease in the last round that he felt compelled to apologise to the fast imploding Australian enigma at the net afterwards.
“That’s exactly the same this year regardless of who’s in the draw or not and it will be the same until I’m done playing tennis. The expectation is extremely high at this event regardless. It doesn’t change,” he said.
Tsonga is unlikely to yield as easily as Kyrgios but Murray has prevailed in 12 of their 14 meetings, including two here at Wimbledon, and will start as the overwhelming favourite.
With each passing year, Murray’s towering achievement in overcoming both Djokovic and 77 years of history in 2013 becomes more rather than less impressive. And having done so, it’s hard not to believe him when he says nothing can faze him now.
“I deal with my own expectation. I expect to play my best tennis at these events and put a large amount of pressure on myself to do so, which I don’t think people always appreciate. Some people think that the expectation mainly comes from the press but I don’t read what the press say. I’m also not that interested what the press say,” he said.
It is a standby trope of most top sportspeople to say that they put more pressure on themselves than the media or public ever could but coming from Murray’s lips it is eminently believable, particularly when he points out that his avoidance of the media during Wimbledon fortnight extends to watching other matches with the sound off.
“It’s what my team [feels] and how I feel and I’m putting a lot of expectation on myself at this event like I do at all of the grand slams and I play my most consistent tennis at all of the slams doing that.
“I’ve had more ups and down in my career outside of the slams but at them, when I’ve put the most expectation and pressure on myself, I’ve played better.”
The all-action Tsonga reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2011, a run which included a thrilling five-set victory over Roger Federer, and in 2012 but has not progressed beyond the fourth round since until now. In that 2012 semi-final, Murray overcame Tsonga fairly smoothly in four sets.
Though he went on to lose to Federer in a tear-stained, rain-affected final, it was the moment at which something shifted and it became clear that winning Wimbledon was a feat he was likely to achieve rather than one destined to remain frustratingly beyond his grasp.
The semi-final also had an odd denouement when both players had to wait for a Hawk-Eye decision on a ball that was erroneously called out, though Murray also remembers it for an eye-watering moment when his French opponent was hit where it hurts at close quarters.
Tsonga, two years older than Murray and a firm crowd favourite at SW19 when he is not playing the home hope, has endured plenty of painful moments against Murray down the years.
“I don’t know exactly why. We’ve played a lot of close matches as well but I’ve managed to come through a lot of them. Jo is one of the toughest players to play on the grass but on the other surfaces I’ve managed to play some good matches against him,” said Murray.
“Apart from the one tough loss against him which was the first round of the Australian Open [in 2008]. At the time, the press were slamming me for losing that one and a couple of weeks later he was in the final. So he’s gone on to become a top player.”
Asked what Murray had that he did not, Tsonga picked out his backhand as more “solid” and praised his movement. But, more than that, he said it was Murray’s “defensive flair” – a natural ability to be in the right place at the right time – that made him so hard to beat.
If there is one area in which the vanquished Kyrgios could learn from a man he clearly looks up to it is in Murray’s evident determination to wring every last drop from his talent. Now eyeing a possible final against Federer and revenge for 2012, he may not have a better chance to win a second Wimbledon title. But before a possible semi-final against Tomas Berdych or Lucas Pouille, he must overcome a familiar foe.
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