Andy Murray clung on to beat Fernando Verdasco in the quarter finals - but the Spaniard made him work for it (Image | Reuters)

Andy Murray clung on to beat Fernando Verdasco in the quarter finals – but the Spaniard made him work for it (Image | Reuters)

Having not lost a set in Wimbledon 2013, Andy Murray would have felt confident coming up against a 29-year-old with a far from notable recent record. Fernando Verdasco gave the Scotsman the fright of his life on Centre Court this afternoon, but Murray continues to advance one step at a time towards that inevitable Final against Novak Djokovic.

Murray, who has been so successful in attacking his opponents and controlling matches over the past ten days, was made to run, dive and stretch every sinew as Verdasco’s big-hitting play steered him around the court. In the first two sets in particular, and for large parts of the deciding fifth, Murray seemed only to be focusing on getting Verdasco’s shots back, rather than trying to control the point.

The barrage seemed never-ending. Even at his most dominant, in the third set, Murray was swatting away one bullet after another from the piston-like Verdasco forehand – and if that wasn’t bad enough, the Spaniard’s two-handed swirling, dipping backhand was almost as fast.

For Verdasco, now 29 and having slipped to 54 in the world during a torrid start to 2013, this Wimbledon run will already have served as redemption. It is proof that the former world number seven and 2009 Australian Open semi-finalist can still perform at the highest level, against the highest standard of opponent, with poise and composure.

Both players were tested to their limits in a feat of physical prowess and endurance (Image | AFP)

Both players were tested to their limits in a feat of physical prowess and endurance (Image | AFP/Getty)

The Spaniard’s execution in the first two sets was immaculate; his inspired form seemed to dip in the third, which Murray won convincingly to get back into the match, but returned afresh from that point on. The first left-hander Murray has faced in going on a year, Verdasco maximised the element of .

The physical onslaught alone, however, was not enough. Verdasco’s power has long been his Achilles heel; too often in the final couple of games, his attempts to blow Murray away led only to self-destructive misses over the baseline.

Just as that famously fragile mental stability had begun to waver, Murray found a way to haul himself together. Frustrated and irritable as one Verdasco service game after another passed him by in the fifth, the world number two managed to find the strength from somewhere to compose himself and drive on. Teasing Verdasco into rallies at 5-5, Murray forced just enough mistakes to edge ahead, before gutting out his service game to advance to the semi-finals.

Perhaps, minutes earlier as he grumbled at line judges, the umpire and himself, Murray had remembered what an amazing opportunity this would be to waste. He could – should – have faced either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in the last four. Instead, thanks to the short-lived but long to be remembered heroics of Sergiy Stakovsky and Steve Darcis, Murray will face Polish rising star Jerzy Janowicz*.

Janowicz is talented and another big hitter, and has already accounted for one British hope at Wimbledon this year – albeit that was 18-year-old qualifier and debutant Kyle Edmond – but he’s no Nadal or Federer. His path to the final has matched him with an injured Radek Stepanek, the aging Jurgen Melzer and countryman Lukasz Kubot, although the straight-sets defeat of Nicolas Almagro in the third round was admittedly impressive.

One further word of warning: Janowicz won the only ATP Tour match between the two last November.

Murray will feel positive, though, that he has passed the first big test of his Wimbledon 2013 campaign. It took him a little longer than he’d have liked, but the British number one did eventually find his way past a difficult opponent in Verdasco. There will be elements to work on ahead of the semi-final on Friday – re-discovering his assertiveness will be top of coach Ivan Lendl’s list – but all that matters after such a tight encounter is that there will be a semi-final to work towards.

One step at a time.

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* Just for reference, as I’ve found it the most annoying thing about this entire tournament: I’m sure I won’t need to remind true sports fans of this, as we’re all blessed for learning and remembering foreign names, this is pronounced “Yer-zy Yan-o-vits”, not, as the BBC would have you believe, “Jersey Jannervich”.

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