When the first men’s quarterfinal match of this year’s Wimbledon began began, neither player gave any indication that we were in for anything other than an easy victory by the heavy favorite. Andy Murray began the match by holding serve and then breaking Sam Querrey, and the tall American seemed to have no responses to Murray’s game. Murray quickly and easily held serve four more times to win the first set 6-3. Murray also started the second set strong, breaking Querrey for a 4-3 lead. That break of serve was when the match started to turn, though.
Querrey broke Murray right back, which was the first hint that Murray might not entirely be in the match. Querrey then held and broke for a second straight time, taking the second set 6-4. Querrey could not keep his momentum to start the third set, being broken straight away. Querrey managed to break back while Murray was serving for the set–an unbelievably tight game in which Murray couldn’t buy a second serve–which was our second real indication that something might be off with Murray. The World #1 did not win three Slams and earn his ranking by being unable to close out tight sets.
Murray managed to take the third set in a tiebreak, and that was when the physical problems really came to the fore. Querrey broke early in the fourth set, and only seemed to pick up steam as Murray seemed to struggle. Querrey hit big shot after big shot (especially from the backhand side) as Murray seemed physically out of it, not moving nearly as well during the points as he was early in the match.
Murray came out in the fifth with some more energy than he had shown in the fourth, clearly showing us that he had packed in the latter half of the fourth set to save something for the decider. It wasn’t enough, though. Murray had lost too much power on his serve and Querrey was just playing too well. Querrey broke Murray in the Brit’s first service game of the final set and never looked back, winning the final set 6-1.
What’s next for both players?
This will raise serious questions for Murray, who has struggled physically throughout much of 2017. The Brit is still the World #1, though that will change if Djokovic manages to take the title here. That does leave hope for Murray’s fans, though. If the problems are all physical, then some time to rest and recover could bring Murray back to the level that got him to World #1 in the first place.
For Querrey, this has to be a career-defining tournament. The American has always had real potential, especially on grass. He won Queen’s back in 2010, a tournament that is often a predictor of Wimbledon success. He followed up that Queen’s victory by winning his second Los Angeles title a few months later, defeating Andy Murray in the final.
Querrey’s real problem has been consistency and performing at the highest levels. He beat Murray for a title seven years ago, but had never managed to reach a Slam quarterfinal until last year. This definitely seems like the breakthrough tournament he and American fans have been waiting for, though. This was his third consecutive five-set match, showing a measure of resilience and durability that just hasn’t been evident in his career until now. His movement–something that has not been a strength for most of his career–was on full display as Murray played more and more drop shots while the Brit was physically struggling late in the match.
American tennis has been starved for a performance like Querrey’s for so long. The last American to reach a Slam semifinal was Andy Roddick in 2009 at Wimbledon, when he lost that heartbreaking final to Federer, 16-14 in the fifth set. In fact, only four Americans have reached a Slam quarterfinal since then. Querrey will have a chance to match Roddick’s performance on Friday, when he meets the winner of Marin Cilic vs Gilles Muller in the semifinal. If he wins that match, he will have a chance to rejuvenate American men’s tennis on Sunday, possibly again against Roger Federer, who plays his quarterfinal later today.