LONDON – The silence at Centre Court made abundantly clear that Andy Murray’s time as Wimbledon champion was coming to a close.
Out of sorts from the start of his quarterfinal against up-and-coming Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday, Murray – who in 2013 ended Britain’s 77-year wait for one of its own to win the men’s title at the All England Club – sailed an awkward backhand slice long to fall behind by a set and a break.
The crowd of nearly 15,000, usually so vociferous in support of Murray, sat quietly, perhaps not prepared to believe what was happening. All along, Murray’s body language was as negative as his play: He gnawed on his knuckle after seeing an ace zip past; slapped his forehead with his palm after one forehand found the net; bowed his head and slumped his shoulders after another did the same.
When one last forehand fell short, the magical ride ended for Murray and his fans with a 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-2 loss to the 11th-seeded Dimitrov, who became the first man from Bulgaria to reach a Grand Slam semifinal.
“I have very good memories from that court out there. It’s a special court for me,” said Murray, who lost the 2012 Wimbledon final there, won that year’s London Olympics gold medal there, then won his historic title 12 months ago there. “I mean, you can have bad days as an athlete. You don’t win all of the time. Sometimes you just have to take it on the chin and move on.”
He hadn’t lost a set in his first four matches, but made 37 unforced errors Wednesday, more than twice as many as Dimitrov.
“Even when I wanted to get into longer rallies, I was missing shots,” the third-seeded Murray said. “I was unable to make him work as hard as I needed to.”
Dimitrov was composed throughout, getting broken only once and showing off the all-court game and smooth, one-handed backhand that long ago earned him the nickname “Baby Fed” – as in seven-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer.
On Friday, Dimitrov takes on another past champ, top-seeded Novak Djokovic, who returned to the semifinals for the fifth consecutive year by coming back to beat No. 26 Marin Cilic of Croatia 6-1, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-2.
“Novak really played terrific the last two sets,” said three-time Wimbledon winner Boris Becker, who’s coaching Djokovic. “That was the first real test for him.”
Bouchard vs. Halep
The women with the best records at Grand Slam tournaments this year, Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep, will meet for a place in the Wimbledon final.
A key two-game turnaround in the first set helped Bouchard advance to her third consecutive Grand Slam semifinal by beating ninth-seeded Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday.
Halep won 11 consecutive games to complete a 6-4, 6-0 win over 2013 finalist Sabine Lisicki.
The victories over their German opponents were no flukes. Bouchard and Halep have the best WTA records in majors this year. Both are 15-2.
Bouchard, the 20-year-old Canadian, and Halep, the French Open runner-up from Romania, will meet in today’s semifinals. The other semifinal is between 2011 champion Petra Kvitova and fellow Czech Lucie Safarova.
Bouchard saved four break points at 3-3 in the seventh game of the opening set and then broke in the next game to take control against Kerber, who pulled off a three-set upset victory over Maria Sharapova on Tuesday.
French Open finalist and third-seeded Halep was down 4-1 in the first set before winning the rest of the games.
“I wanted just to keep more rallies, point by point,” Halep said of her comeback. “I stayed very aggressive, very close to the baseline, and I played my game.”
Bouchard, the first Canadian woman to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon, hasn’t dropped a set in five matches.
Canadian in men’s semis
Milos Raonic is the first Canadian in more than a century to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon.
That was the easy part – now he gets to face seven-time champion Roger Federer.
Raonic defeated wild-card entry Nick Kyrgios of Australia 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (4) Wednesday, finishing with his 39th ace on the fourth match point.
Federer has beaten Raonic all four times they’ve played, most recently at last year’s Australian Open when Federer won in straight sets.
Raonic’s big serve – his ace on match point was 133 miles per hour – predictably was the topic of conversation ahead of Friday’s semifinal.
On Wednesday, Raonic won 69 of 78 points on his first serve – 88 per cent – and was broken only once.
“I’ve got to do what I’ve been doing, serve well,” he said. “It’s going to be a great challenge and one that I’m going to relish because it’s something I really wanted … to put myself in this position.”
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