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Murray thrills crowd with superb comeback

July 3, 2013
Andy Murray has reached his fifth consecutive semi-final at Wimbledon © PA Photos
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After losing his first career match against Fernando Verdasco a decade ago at a Challenger in Segovia, Spain, Andy Murray, then 17, went on to win all eight of their subsequent matches.

That baseline helped fuel a growing certainty around the grounds that Murray would stroll into his fifth consecutive semifinal here at the All England Club, surpassing his beloved predecessor, Tim Henman. This theory took on some water when Murray lost the first set - after a first serve struck the net halfway down and a second was a good foot long.

It was Murray's first dropped set after winning the first 12 here and it sucked the life out of the Pimm's-drinking partiers watching the big screen on Henman Hill. And then, quite suddenly, almost unbelievably, there was Verdasco serving for (and winning) the second set.

"Yeah, it was a tough situation," Murray said. "The second set was a bad set of tennis for me. I was 3-1 up and then made some bad mistakes, poor choices on the court."

About 90 minutes later, the sun was setting behind Henman Hill - and was the same true of the crowd's favorite son? Actually, no. Somehow, Murray drew even in typically dramatic fashion and, to the delight of the patrons on Centre Court and outside, too, took his first lead with about five minutes to play.

And so, Fred Perry's 1936 title here at Wimbledon will continue to get heavy rotation, because Murray is into Friday's semifinals with a 4-6 3-6 6-1 6-4 7-5 victory.

He'll play a kid named Jerzy. Yes, Jerzy Janowicz is the first Polish man ever to reach a Grand Slam semifinal, after beating countryman Lukasz Kubot 7-5 6-4 6-4.

In the top-half semi-final, No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic faces No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro after their straight-set wins over Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer, respectively.

"Yeah, I just managed to turn it around," Murray said. "I took my time when I was behind. I didn't make poor choices. I fought as hard as I could, chased every single ball. I came through an incredibly tough match."

Verdasco, by the way, was the first left-hander Murray has played since last year's US Open. Maybe that's why he struggled so mightily out of the box.

The third set, though, was a bit of a lark for Murray. Verdasco started to look like the 54th-ranked player in the world. And Murray started to reel the Spaniard in.

At five-all in the fifth set, Murray took his first lead of the match. A 20-stroke rally that ended with a Verdasco backhand in the net gave him a break point and he converted it with some tenacious defense and Verdasco's errant, running squash shot.

When it was finally over, after three hours and 27 minutes, Murray raised his arms and finally exhaled. It took a few minutes.

It was the seventh comeback from a two-set deficit for Murray (his second at Wimbledon), second among all active players, behind Roger Federer's total of eight. Murray has now won 16 straight matches on grass and 21 of 22, with the 2012 Wimbledon finals loss to Federer being the only black mark.

Verdasco, swinging hard to the end, finished with 45 winners and 45 unforced errors.

Thursday's quarterfinal from the top of the draw's bottom half was supposed to feature 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer versus 12-time champ Rafael Nadal. But apparently the Polish Tennis Federation did not get the memo.

People wonder why so many European nations are enjoying such success relative to the United States. Consider this: The Polish federation had a budget of less than $2 million last year and reportedly could not afford to send Janowicz to Melbourne for Australian Open qualifying. When they paid for the shorter flight to Wimbledon, Janowicz, playing with a great sense of urgency, qualified - and reached the third round.

When Janowicz and Kubot reached the quarters here, Witold Sobkow, the Polish ambassador to the United Kingdom, was moved to congratulate them. "This year I am blown away at the success of Polish tennis players," he wrote. "I'm sure Jerzy Janowicz and Lukasz Kubot have the entire country's support and will make us very proud."

Janowicz is only 22, while Kubot is nine years older, but they are good friends. Before the match, they posed for a poignant photo on the second-floor terrace of the media center, holding the Polish flag (and, instructively, each other), truly happy to be there. The funny thing? They had never played each other in an ATP-level match.

Predictably, their first set was a rousing affair. Kubot actually had a set point, but Janowicz responded with a forehand winner for deuce, an ace, at 137 mph and a superb backhand passing shot down the line. The No. 24-seeded Janowicz converted his fourth break point in the 11th game and won the frame with yet another unreturnable serve.

He had little trouble the rest of the way with the ATP World Tour's No. 130-ranked player. Janowicz, who will be ranked among the top 20 next week, finished with 30 aces and 58 winners.

Minutes afterward, he could barely speak.

"I am just really happy," Janowicz said. "I didn't expect I could go that far in a grand slam. I have not many words to say right now. I have nothing to say, basically."

When it was over, Janowicz and Kubot stood in a long embrace at net and exchanged shirts in the manner of sporting soccer players. Kubot, who had to be in agony, waited several minutes for Janowicz to compose himself so they could walk off Court No. 1 together.

And now Murray will have to fend off Janowicz's massive game in the semifinals.

"It will be a very tough match," Murray said. "He has a big serve. He's a big guy with a lot of power. He also has pretty good touch. He likes to hit drop shots. He doesn't just whack every single shot as hard as he can."

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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