THE mutters were that Grigor Dimitrov is the coming man.
Andy Murray briefly spotted him in his rear-view mirror yesterday before the 23-year-old Bulgarian put his foot to his pedal and ran straight over the top of him. He accelerated from nought to 6-1 in 25 minutes. He then disappeared into the distance.
It would have been understandable in his post-match interview if the Wimbledon champion had said of his Bulgarian conqueror: "Did anyone get his number?"
Instead, he was brutally honest after Dimitrov won 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-2 in two hours one minute on Centre Court. "He was the better player from start to finish," said Murray who was deposed as champion with unseemly briskness.
The world No.5 was unseated by a combination of forces. The first was that he played poorly. Murray committed 37 unforced errors, the equivalent of donating nine games. He claimed he only made one backhand winner in the entire match. Nobody argued.
"The frustrating thing for me was the amount of mistakes I made today. Because even when I wanted to get into longer rallies I was missing shots. I was unable to make him work as hard as I needed to to get back into the match," said Murray who will drop to No.10 in the world as a result of this comprehensive defeat.
The second factor that confounded Murray was the performance of Dimitrov who has finally moved into his first grand slam semi-final.
He was once known as Baby Fed. He may become famous as Giant Grig. He has the elegance of the Swiss player, particularly on that one-handed backhand, and he had a smart gameplan and a strength of will. This was his first victory over a top-10 player in a grand slam. It will not be his last.
Under Roger Rasheed, his uncompromising and canny Australian coach, he has moved from glitzy pretender to genuine contender. He served brilliantly, once firing in a second serve of 121 mph, and moved smoothly and with unshakeable purpose.
He had to face both the champion and a crowd that, if not hostile, was firmly and loudly expressing its support for his opponent.
Dimitorv's crisis came early. He offered Murray a break point in his first service game but the Scot could not take it. Instead, Murray lost his serve twice in a set that slowly unravelled for him in a mixture of mistimed forehands and innocuous backhands. Dimitrov won the set on a sclaffed forehand. It was the only moment of obvious mistiming by the world No.13 and yet it fulfilled its purpose.
"I should have done a better job at the beginning of the match of making it tougher for him, and I didn't manage to do that," reflected Murray later. He also bemoaned his fecklessness in the second set.
He was broken to give Dimitrov a 5-3 lead but he immediately broke back and forced a tie break. Surely, now Murray would be galvanised into something approaching the form that had been so spectacular in the the first four matches that been won in three sets.
The answer would be in the negative. This match was destined to go three sets. Murray was fated to lose in a manner that he described later as "disappointing".
He was broken on serve in the tie break and though he broke back immediately Dimitrov won three straight points to take the shoot-out 7-4. "When I got back into the second set, the end of the set, that was my opportunity there," said Murray.
This was the time when a vintage Murray would have cranked up the pressure on an opponent, especially one who had never successfully sampled the joy of reaching the last four of a major.
His failure to win the tie break ensured he had to match the heroics of last year when he beat Fernando Verdasco of Spain in the last eight after being two sets down. This was a task of a different magnitude.
Verdasco was a storm that blew itself out on the rocks of a defiant Murray. Dimitrov was a force that would not be denied.
It was hard to discern coherent Murray strategy throughout. "I'm not going to go into details of what my game plan and tactics are for any of the matches that I play," he said. "Whatever the tactics were, I didn't execute them as well as I would have liked. And also, your opponent can do things in the match that you're also not expecting, or hitting the ball in certain places which doesn't allow you to do exactly what you want on the court. He did a good job of that."
The perfect storm thus found its victim in the third set. With commendable composure, Dimitrov served out his first game and was only placed under pressure when he served to make it 3-2, offering Murray a tantalising deuce but no more. This was the starting point for another piece of smooth acceleration.
The youngster who won the juniors at Wimbledon became the machine who could take four consecutive games off a player who won the championship and Olympic gold on Centre Court. He stood with his arms raised as Murray, yet again, hit the ball into the net.
This time to end the match and his defence of the crown. The race for the succession will include the highly impressive Bulgarian.
The afternoon was witnessed by a raucous crowd that was on occasion reduced to a stunned silence as if watching the cliched car crash in slow motion.
Earlier in the week, Dimitrov had been asked when the Big Four could be overtaken by younger models. He muttered and pondered and finally conceded it might be "around the corner".
The 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios of Australia then ran Rafael Nadal off the road before Dimitrov crushed Murray.
Last night the Bulgarian admitted: "I said it was around the corner. I didn't know it was that around the corner."
Dimitrov, sleek and quick, blindsided Murray, reducing his Wimbledon campaign to wreckage. He now leaves the arena to retool, rebuild and repair.