• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Rope-a-dope? Not this dope, and not with this rope

FOR an instant it was as if the world had ended.

The shrieking subsided to a deathly hush, before the excited hubbub of 15,000 amateur post-mortems and conspiracy theories sprung up around this patch of South West London. It hadn't, of course. What they had just witnessed was only slightly less seismic. Andy Murray had just lost a tennis match on Centre Court.

Loading article content

To be fair to them, this is hardly a regular occurrence. The Scot had not suffered any defeat at this venue since the 2012 final, entering the arena yesterday on a run of 17 previous wins. And this wasn't just any defeat. Forget about his opponent, Grigor Dimitrov, a Bulgarian with enough game to make it a scandal that he had only previously troubled one grand slam quarter-final.

Their main source of their disbelief was entirely down to the 27-year-old from Dunblane, a man who appeared troubled and out-of-sorts from the very first game, if not the very first ball.

His razor-sharp opponent had sensed something before even that, Murray's body language sending off bad signals even when the two men traded shots in the warm up.

The Scot actually forced a break point in that first hopeful Dimitrov service game, the World No.5 using that same white cap which he donned in last year's final to shield his eyes from the bright mid-afternoon sun. Before long, though, with his errant shots striking the net more regularly than his beloved Hibernian managed this season, it had been discarded in disgust. It was symptomatic of Murray surrendering his Wimbledon crown. When one last forehand failed to even reach the tape, it was official: his reign was over.

At the end of it all, Murray's reaction was eerily similar to what it had been 12 months back, sitting with his face wrapped in his towel in disbelief. But there was to be no clambering up to the players box this time, merely a dutiful reminding his opponent to bow to the Royal Box before remembering to sign a few autographs for well wishers on the way out.

For all the shock and horror, perhaps we should not have been too surprised. For starters, defending a Wimbledon title is not easy. Fred Perry, the man whose clothes he now tries to steal, rather than wear, might have managed it back in the 1930s, but only four men - Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer - have done it in the open era.

The form guide was rather iffy. Murray might have sailed imperiously through the first four rounds, dropping no sets, and just 32 games in total, the fewest in any of his grand slams to date. But perhaps that was all rather illusory, and we all got carried away in the euphoria. Not once had he had to live on his wits or look to a Plan B.

Perhaps what everyone should have been looking at was a rather more stern set of figures. The ones, for instance, that show while Dimitrov had won three titles this year, Murray had yet to touch any silverware since this time last year. Instead of musing on the Bulgarian's inability to beat a top-10 player in a major, perhaps we should have been stressing the Scot himself had not beaten anyone in the top 10 since that day against Djokovic.

Instead, he had undergone serious back surgery and endured a traumatic change of coach. Whatever was in the tactical plan which he and Amelie Mauresmo cooked up, it can't have included the 78mph second serves which were being given the treatment by Dimitrov, nor the suicide note of a lob which saw him drop the first set 6-1, the biggest margin of any at Wimbledon since against David Nalbandian on his debut in 2005.

Some positive energy finally arrived at the start of the second, coincidental with his mum Judy turning up after Jamie's mixed doubles match. The two men traded service breaks and soon we were into the tie-break which defined this match. Just when you sensed the momentum was on the turn at 4-4, his opponent produced three huge points in a row.

As the court groaned collectively when the Scot struck the net again on set point, Dimitrov pumped his fist at coach Roger Rasheed. Surely though, this was Murray's old rope-a-dope routine, the one witnessed in those epic fightbacks against Richard Gasquet or Fernando Verdasco? But not only was this a different opponent, this was a different Murray. No redemption ever came.

The Scot will enter his usual period of post Wimbledon soul-searching, with a decision to be made on Mauresmo within the course of a week. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that as the match reached its painful conclusion, Virginia Wade could be found on the mezzanine level, basking in the mid-afternoon London sun.

Contextual targeting label: 
Block list

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

244746