SUCH has been the carnage at Wimbledon that top players are expected to replace headbands with helmets.
Andy Murray stands unscathed in the midst of a brutal thinning of the top ranks. The departure of such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Marin Cilic leaves the Scot's potential road to the final looking like a week in a Masters 250 tournament. The top-ranked opponent in his half of the draw is now Nicolas Almagro, world No.15, who could be a semi-final opponent for the world No.2.
This week has reinforced the lesson that there is nothing certain in sport but Murray's task is considerably smoother than it was when the seers made their projections on Sunday. A Tsonga (quarters) -Nadal (semis) run to the final for Murray could now be replaced by a Juan Monaco-Almagro double before an anticipated meeting with Novak Djokovic, the world No.1.
Loading article content
This, of course, is conjecture and it is not something that Murray indulges in when playing at a major. His discipline is unbending but how can he avoid looking at how the draw may pan out?
The answer is robust. "[Steve] Darcis beat Rafa, Roger has just lost to [Sergiy] Stakhovsky, Tsonga lost to [Ernests] Gulbis. Who's to say I can't lose to [Tommy] Robredo in the next round?" asked Murray.
"These things happen all the time in sport. I just think [because of] the consistency of the top players for the last eight, 10 years, people are so shocked. I think this used to happen a lot more previously, but I don't worry about those things. I know if I don't play well on Friday, I'll lose. That's why I'll be ready for that match and not worry about anything else."
The Scot's focus has been a feature of his performances against Benjamin Becker and Lu Hsen-Yun. He has not dropped a set but more importantly has shown skill and patience. It is almost absurd to state it but Murray, the object of such annual summer ballyhoo that it makes a royal wedding look understated, has been a sideshow at this Wimbledon as players drop to the ground clutching ankles or knees and the biggest names in the sport spend the second week at Wimbledon far from the madding crowd.
Wimbledon 2013 has the capacity to produce more intrigue, more upset, but its aftermath could be significant. Just how bad are Nadal's knees? And is Federer's obvious frailty an intimation of the inevitable mortality of sporting greatness as the great player approaches the age of 32?
Murray admitted surprise at events but was cautious about joining those who insist tennis could be on the brink of a changing of the guard. "These sorts of upsets happened a lot more 10, 15 years ago but, since I came on the tour, Rafa and Roger have always been in the latter stages of the slams," he said.
"Obviously Novak the last few years, and I've played consistently well in the slams too the last few years, but it will be the first time in a long time that Rafa and Roger haven't been in the third round of a slam."
The world No.2 was questioned about whether Federer, in particular, was nearing the end of the most successful career in the sport.
"I honestly have no idea. Roger has still played some top quality tennis this year, maybe not as consistent as he had been for the last 10 years, but you can't keep that up forever," said Murray. "The levels of consistency and domination, we probably won't see that again. We'll have to wait and see how he responds but he's one of the greatest athletes ever, and I would expect him to respond very well to this loss. He definitely will be a danger at the US Open."
Of Nadal, who has suffered from chronic knee problems, he said: "People wanted to write Rafa off after Wimbledon last year with his injury and he came back and made nine finals in a row. Roger and Rafa will be back competing for grand slams in the future, I think. It was just a couple of very good performances form Darcis and Stakhovsky, with maybe Rafa and Roger not quite being at their best. You can lose when that happens."
In the short term, Murray only has Robredo in his thoughts. The 31-year-old Spaniard is tough, technically competent but better on clay, though his defeat of Nicoal Mahut in three sets was impressive.
"Every time you step on the court, you need to be ready and you need to be prepared," said Murray. "He's a top player, very experienced and he came back from two sets down three times in a row at the French Open, so I know he'll fight until the very last point."
Murray practised with Kyle Edmund, the 18-year-old Englishman who wants to be one of the young guns who take over when such as Federer and Nadal ride into the sunset.
Robredo lies in ambush but Wimbledon has a Scot who is ready to take up the reins.