On the 1st of July 2011 Andy Murray prepared to take on Rafael Nadal - 10 time Grand Slam champion; a record 19 Masters 1000 titles; Wimbledon defending champion and firm candidate of the ‘greatest of all time’ discussion. The Scotsman had had by far his best season to date, making a final and two semi-finals out of the Grand Slams that'd gone by.
|(Pic: AP Photo)|
Ok he was outplayed in Australia, but that happened to be the scene of Novak Djokovic’s winning expedition; and yes he suffered a lull after the loss, but that was only to be expected. The fact that he was able to produce enviable clay court results – clay being a surface that he has wrestled with in the past; and transition onto the grass with a trophy in his pocket, was enough evidence to show that his game had indeed enjoyed some non-trivial growth. And it’s not only his physical game that matured, but his attitude and mental strength. The shouts and complaints became more and more channelled into self-encouragement.
Taking all that into consideration there did seem to be a cloud of increased optimism surrounding the British number one going into the match; seizing a semi-final win from the defending champion seemed...well, doable. And what’s more, having now made his third semi-final at Wimbledon, he could add experience to his list of strengths.
And all that game, mentality, optimism and experience – he succeeded in transporting into the first set and three games. Quite emphatically.
But then along came Nadal.
From then on, he kindly reminded us why he’d been in four previous finals; why he’d kissed the trophy twice; and why the only man to deny him his gold in the other half of those finals was a man who for the majority of his career literally couldn’t lose at SW19.
Nadal will now face the only other player who has matched and indeed surpassed his level this season. Both have the uncanny ability to produce magnificence on a court. Novak Djokovic has already achieved one half of his childhood dream by becoming the new no. 1.
The other awaits him; but so does Nadal.