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1:35PM

A Wimbledon of pain for Murray and joy for Querrey

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — Yes, Andy Murray, the defending champion, the Olympic champion, the No. 1 player in the world, was hurting. You could see it in his walk. You could see it in his grimace.

But maybe what you couldn’t see was the progress of Sam Querrey, who for the first time in a career that’s been going more than a decade has made to the semifinals of one of tennis's four biggest events, arguably the biggest of those four, the All-England Championships.

Querrey, the hang-loose guy from southern California, beat Murray 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1 on Wednesday in a quarterfinal that maybe, considering where it was held, on a Centre Court surrounded almost entirely by Murray fans, was a shock. Or, acknowledging Murray’s aching right hip, wasn’t shocking at all.  

Murray had made it through four rounds, had the lead in this round, needed only one more game to advance. But either the hip that he said has bothered him for years, if not as seriously as in the last month, or Querrey wouldn’t allow Andy to get that set.

Injuries happen. You play with pain. That’s a cliché of sport, a truism. Or if you’re unable, you withdraw. Which is what Novak Djokovic did in the second set of his quarters match Wednesday against Tomas Berdych because of his right elbow. “Unfortunate I had to finish Wimbledon that way,” Djokovic said.

He was the 2015 (and ’14 and ’11) winner. Murray was the 2016 (and ’13) winner. So the men who took the last the last four Wimbledons (and five of the last six) are out of ’17 because of injuries. The body takes a beating. You gut it out, or you pull out.

“If you play,” Venus Williams said here a few years ago, “you’re not hurt. If you’re hurt, you don’t play.”

Murray was hurt, and he did play. No champion wants to let his title go without a fight. “I tried my best,” said Murray, who will not slip from the top of the rankings. “Right to the end. Gave it everything I had. I’m proud about that.”

And then he said something that shouldn’t be overlooked, about the competence of his opponent. “Sam served extremely well at the end of the match,” said Murray. “You know. Loosened up. Was going for his shots. Nothing much I could do.”

There was plenty Querrey could do. As Murray said, Querrey served well. He had 27 aces, compared to Murray’s eight. That’s always been Sam’s game, power.

He’s always had potential, too. Standing 6-foot-6, he turned pro out of Thousand Oaks High instead of going to USC, mainly because his father, Mike, thought about his own decision.

Mike was a ballplayer. He had a chance to sign with the Detroit Tigers out of high school but instead enrolled at Arizona. “I didn’t want to ride the bus to Shreveport.” Mike told the New York Times. After college, he married and went to work in Northern California, where Sam was born. Then Mike tried to restart his baseball career, but he couldn’t.

The memory haunted him. He didn’t want Sam to make a similar mistake.

Sam’s career has been acceptable. But it was supposed to be remarkable. Finally last year he beat Djokovic, the defending champion, in Wimbledon’s third round. Now he beats Murray, the defending champion, in the quarters.

“It’s a really big deal,” said Querrey. “For me. It’s my first semifinal.”

Where on Friday he’ll meet Marin Cilic, who beat Gilles Muller, the guy who upset Rafa Nadal.

In the other semi, Roger Federer faces Berdych. Federer has won 18 Slams, won Wimbledon seven times. Cilic won the 2014 U.S. Open. Berdych was a Wimbledon finalist. They’ve been there, done that.

Sam Querrey still is trying.

"I was probably a little more fired up (Wednesday), especially in the fourth and fifth sets," said Querrey. ”There’s a little more on the line.”

Querrey said he didn’t intentionally attempt to take advantage of Murray’s injury. “Not at all really,” affirmed Querrey. “I kind of noticed it a little bit from the beginning. But I just stayed with my game. I tried to stay aggressive. I didn’t want to alter my game and get into those cat-and-mouse points because that’s where he’s really good. 

“I just kept my foot down and just kept trying to pound the ball.”

And Murray couldn’t respond.

“Not many people get to play tennis professionally,” Querrey said, “let alone play at Wimbledon, play on Centre Court, play against Andy Murray. It’s something that few people get to do, so it’s really special. Really proud.”

He should be. As Andy Murray, battling against his body, should be.

1:29PM

Querrey up against Murray — and all of Britain

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — Playing Andy Murray at Wimbledon? It would be like playing Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Or the Warriors at Oracle Arena. “It’s going to be tough,” said Sam Querrey. “He’s defending champion, No. 1 in the world. He loves playing here. The crowd is going to be behind him.”

Querrey faces Murray Wednesday in a quarterfinal at Wimbledon. Which Murray won last year. And in 2013, then becoming the first British man in 77 years to be singles champion of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships.

So everything and presumably everyone will be against Querrey, the 29-year-old from Southern California — where, as Sam correctly pointed out, there’s baseball and football and basketball. ”I doubt people in L.A. even know what’s going on over here,” he said.

What’s going on is the oldest (115 years), most important tournament in the world, as much a part of an English summer as strawberries and cream and evenings that stay light until at least 10 p.m.

Murray, the home-country kid (well, he’s from Scotland but at the moment that’s still part of the United Kingdom), defeated Benoit Paire of France, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, on what is known as “Manic Monday” in one fourth-round match. Querrey defeated Kevin Anderson, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (11), 6-3 in another quarterfinal.

And Querrey was into the quarterfinals for a second straight year. And Murray for a tenth straight year. “It’s really impressive,” said Querrey. “I mean I’ve done it twice in my life.” 

Querrey is on the outside looking in. Men’s tennis has been the property of the Big Four: Murray, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal, who in a marathon match Monday was upset by Gilles Muller, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13.

A few years ago, when he passed up a scholarship at USC to turn pro out of Thousand Oaks High School, Sam was projected as one of the future greats. But in 2009, while at a tournament in Bangkok, he leaned on a glass coffee table, which shattered. His arm was cut severely, and he missed time during recovery.

So he never made the ultimate step. Not that he stopped trying to do so. Querrey said he gladly would accept the pressure the 30-year-old Murray faces, especially at Wimbledon,

“Yeah,” said Querrey. “Because that would mean I’d probably be No. 1 or No. 2 in the world, have a ton of money, have Grand Slams. Life’s pretty good. I do know that comes with a lot more.

“I’m very happy right now with my life. Yeah, I’d love to be at the next level.”

He could approach that with a win over Murray, as difficult as that would appear to be.

“He’s earned it,” Querrey said about Murray. “I’m sure he feels the pressure sometimes. He’s done an incredible job of backing it up and living up to and winning Wimbledon. He’s accomplished all that a player can accomplish.”

For two weeks, the Wimbledon fortnight, there’s no individual in Britain who gets more attention. Not the prime minister. Not the Queen. Not even the soccer player Wayne Rooney, although his return this past weekend to Everton up in Liverpool, after 11 years at famed Manchester United, was maybe only two notches below. As they say, timing is everything.

“The entire country seems like they watch Wimbledon,” said Querrey. “In the U.S., whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, tennis, a lot of people watch, but it’s not 100 percent of America, even the Super Bowl. It feels like everyone watches Wimbledon here with Andy Murray.

“But sometimes it’s fun to go out there and play where the crowd is behind the other player. I’m going to try and play aggressive, hopefully play well and can sneak out a win.”

At Wimbledon, with a nation watching and Murray on the court, even sneaking a glance at the chair umpire will require a special skill.

7:11PM

An official’s call and a rain delay unhinge Andy Murray

By Art Spander

NEW YORK — He was adamant in defeat, trying to handle the questions better than he did Kei Nishikori’s maddening drop shots, a man whose summer of success, a Wimbledon championship, an Olympics championship, unwound in a single afternoon on America’s biggest tennis stage.

Andy Murray was playing elegantly, happily. He had won 26 of 27 matches since mid-June, was in control of his game, the forehands, the backhands, the serves, and no less significantly because of an intensity that can lead to frustration, in control of himself.

Sure, Novak Djokovic might be there at the end of this U.S. Open, Sunday’s final, but Roger Federer hadn’t entered because of an injury and Rafa Nadal was upset in the fourth round. What an opportunity for the 29-year-old Murray, the No. 2 seed, to win the Open a second time, to win a fourth major.

But like that, the whole world seemed to go against him, from the closing of the new roof over 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium when rain began to fall, to a loud bong on the public address system that had the umpire calling a let, to a moth or butterfly fluttering around before the fifth set to getting broken at the start of the fifth set.

So Nishikori, the No. 6 seed, beaten in the Open final two years ago by Marin Cilic, eliminated Murray, 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 and goes to the semis. Murray, who got so angry at one juncture he slammed his racquet to the court, goes to Glasgow and a Davis Cup match. 

“I was in good position,” said Murray, “up a set and a break and had chances at the beginning of the fourth set as well. I could have won the match for sure.”

But he didn’t, and as we’ve seen so often, no matter what the sport, when the person or the team lets the extraneous stuff — the weather, the noise, the officials’ calls — get to them, get them rattled, they’re in trouble. As was Murray.

After the loudspeaker system acted up in the fourth set — Open officials explained the noise was a computer problem — the chair umpire, Marija Cicak, called a let and halted play. Murray protested.

“Stopped the point,” said Murray, “and I was curious why that was. (Tournament referee) Wayne McKewen told me it happened four times during the match. I only heard it once before, which was on set point in the second set.”

After the discussion in the fourth set, Murray lost seven straight games.

“Yeah,” said Murray, “I lost my serve a couple of times from positions when I was up in the game. I got broken once from 40-love, once from 40-15, and at the end of the match I think I was up 30-15 in the game as well. That was the difference.

“It was obviously different serving under the roof. I started off the match serving pretty well. It (closing the roof) slows the conditions down so it becomes easier to return. You know, he started returning a bit better. I didn’t serve so well, obviously ... Under the roof, he was able to dictate more of the points. He was playing a bit closer to the baseline than me and taking the ball up a little more.”

And using drop shots, which is the tennis equivalent of a baseball bunt, a ball that doesn’t go very far but doesn’t have to when the opponent, whether a third baseman or a tennis player, is all the way back, unable to return the shot.

“Yeah, a couple of them,” said Murray about being hurt by the drop shots. “I didn’t lose all the points. I won a number of them.”

Nishikori had lost seven of eight previous matches against Murray over the last five years, and when he got stormed in the first set, taking only one game, the pattern seemed certain to continue. Then came the rain, the roof and the Murray reaction — along with the Nishikori resilience.

With some 20 minutes to get the roof closed, Nishikori went to the locker room and got advice from his coaches, one of them Michael Chang, the Californian who at age 17 won the 1989 French Open.

“We talked about a lot of things,” said Nishikori, the only Japanese player to get to the finals of a Grand Slam event. “It was definitely my mistake I lost the first set. I was feeling a bit rushed. After the rain delay I changed something.”

He certainly changed the direction of the Open, ousting Murray.

“I have not let anyone down,” Murray insisted about his performance. “I tried my best. I didn’t let anyone down. Certainly not myself.”

He just let himself get distracted by a let call and a rain delay. Not very smart.

4:55PM

Rain on the new Open roof — and noise underneath

By Art Spander

NEW YORK — People seem to be fascinated by what’s over their heads. Didn’t the Drifters have a hit song in the 1960s, “Up on the Roof"? And every time there’s a new stadium that’s under cover, such as the Astrodome, bless its history, or an old stadium that’s under new cover, such as Wimbledon Centre Court, we’re enthralled.

When the Astrodome opened in 1965 with an exhibition game between the Astros (neé the Colt .45s) and the Yankees, there was a home run by Mickey Mantle and complaints that no one could see the ball through the then-translucent roof. Still, so enamored were we by the structure that it was proclaimed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Such naiveté.

Now there are domed stadia, ballparks and arenas, some of the coverings permanent, some retractable, from Seattle (Safeco Field, retractable) to New Orleans (the Superdome, permanent). And still we can’t get enough, especially the officials who have a new toy.

Centre Court at Wimbledon needed a roof practically since Victoria was queen of England. The 2000 men’s final, won by Pete Sampras, was halted so many times by rain it lasted seven hours. Naturally, when at last the $120 million retractable covering was ready, for the 2009 tournament, the weather was beautiful until early in the second week a few drops dripped. Elation. Close the roof. Thank you, Mother Nature.

So it was here at Flushing Meadows for the U.S. Open tennis championships. Five years running, 2010-14, the men’s final had to be delayed or postponed by everything from hurricanes to drizzles. Call in the architects. The new roof over the main court, at 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium, was finished a few weeks ago. U.S. Tennis Association officials even had media previews of the closing and opening.

Hey, if you can’t interview Roger Federer, that’s the next best thing.

All day Monday and Tuesday, like people watching for an invading force, Open execs searched the skies for even a cloud. Nothing. Finally, Wednesday, it turned. A bit of rain Wednesday evening. A great deal of joy for the USTA, if not for Rafael Nadal and Andreas Seppi, who competed in the first indoor match ever for the Open. If not the last.

Thursday was wet, and play was chased from the outdoor courts for a long while. But not from Ashe, where the stars performed. Andy Murray, the No. 2 seed, beat Marcel Granollers in straight sets. Then Venus Williams won over Julia Georges. It was different, but it was tennis.

No roars from jets ascending from LaGuardia but a constant din, like 5,000 crickets chirping or neighbors talking gossip across the back fence. As at all roofed stadiums, whatever the sport, the noise was unavoidable, although not particularly irritating.

“I don’t think it was too different to the other night when I played,” said Murray, referring to Tuesday, when he played the late match with the roof open at the Open. “But when the rain came, it was certainly loud.”

Murray the Brit (he’s Scottish not English) not surprisingly was selected on that night in June 2009 to be part of first full match under the Wimbledon roof. There were gasps and then cheers when the mechanism was deployed.

Murray was not totally overjoyed by what he heard at Arthur Ashe Stadium, or more specifically what he didn’t hear. It’s as if the tennis is being played in a hangar.

“You can’t hear anything, really,” said Murray. “I mean you could hear the line calls but not so much when the opponents — you know, when he was hitting the ball or you were hitting the ball.

“We’re not used to it. That’s what make it so challenging. Because we use our ears when we play. It’s not just the eyes. It helps us pick up the speed of the ball, the spin that’s on the ball, how hard someone’s hitting it.”

Venus Williams, in her 18th U.S. Open, was unperturbed by what others considered by the noise or anything else.

“You know,” she said about the pre-roofed Ashe Stadium, “there was a lot of noise last year. Over time you start to forget about the noise. So I think as a player, the higher the stakes the less you year. I do enjoy the quiet.”

To which one must add, “Shhhh.”

9:39PM

Newsday (N.Y.): Andy Murray wins 2nd Wimbledon title by beating Milos Raonic

By Art Spander
Special to Newsday

WIMBLEDON, England — It’s axiomatic in football and baseball that defense wins. Pitching, of course, is a major part of defense. If the other team doesn’t score, it’s impossible to lose.

In the Wimbledon men’s final, Andy Murray demonstrated that the concept is no less applicable to tennis.

Read the full story here.

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