Andy Murray insists he’s getting better and better as he swaggered into the quarter-finals at Wimbledon.
With his full beard and swashbuckling style, Benoit Paire – whose Gallic shrug when things go against him plays to every stereotype – could be plucked straight from the pages of a Victor Hugo novel.
But Murray is something of a Francophile – with his winning run against opponents from across the Channel now extended to a tres bon 26 times and counting.
Paire, the world number 46, made him sweat, going up an early break and sending him scampering across the court with a flurry of deftly played drop shots and stinging backhands.
There were four breaks of serve across the opening eight games, but Paire’s unpredictable style soon became predictable, allowing the defending champion to establish control and find his rhythm.
Murray denied he was struggling with movement, despite appearing to limp back to his chair at one changeover in a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory secured in two hours and 21 minutes on Centre Court.
“This was the best I’ve played, the cleanest I’ve hit the ball and the match I’ve been most happy about,” said Murray.
“I didn’t feel great in my last match but this was much better and that’s a real positive heading into the last few days of the tournament.
“One of the most pleasing things was I felt like I was able to track down a lot of his shots. I came up with some good shots on the run and made it difficult for him to hit loads of winners past me. That’s a big part of my game.
“If I’m struggling and not moving well, it affects my performance maybe more than other guys who don’t rely on their movement as much.”
Murray is used to being the sole standard bearer for British tennis at the business end of Wimbledon but will be joined in the quarter-finals by Johanna Konta.
And you have to go back 44 years – to the days of Roger Taylor, Virginia Wade and wooden racquets – for the last time both a British male and female made the last eight at SW19.
This is Murray’s tenth straight appearance in the last eight at the All England Club and, after taking down four unconventional opponents, he’ll know exactly what to expect with big-serving American Sam Querrey tomorrow.
He’s won seven of their eight encounters, including here at Wimbledon seven years ago. But last year Querrey claimed the scalp of defending champion Novak Djokovic and Murray will be aware that this is a big step up.
The 6ft 6in Querrey needs just one more ace to bring up his century in this tournament but is equally effective with his thumping forehand and backhand.
If there was one part of his well-balanced game to target it’s his occasionally languid movement, something underlined in his hard-fought fourth round five setter with Kevin Anderson.
“Sam likes the conditions here and he’s playing really well, has come through some tight matches and will be confident,” added Murray.
“He’s got that big serve and goes for his shots and is a very aggressive player. I can’t afford to serve badly because he’s not an easy guy to break.
“He likes being a frontrunner. If he is standing on the baseline, hitting forehands, then he can start to dictate play and that makes him very dangerous.”
Querrey admits he is looking forward to being the underdog, claiming he wouldn’t be able to cope with the weight of national expectation Murray routinely shoulders this fortnight.
“It feels like everyone watches Wimbledon here with Andy, it’s like nothing that we have in the States, these two weeks, it’s all about him,” he said.
“He’s earned that position but I’m sure he feels some of the pressure sometimes. He’s done an incredible job by backing it up and winning Wimbledon, winning the Olympics, being number one in the world.
“He’s really accomplished all that a player can accomplish. Everything now is just like icing on the cake.”
Meanwhile, Murray has urged Wimbledon organisers to start play earlier to ensure a fairer mix of matches on the All England Club’s big stages.
There were four men’s and two women’s ties on the main show courts yesterday, with Grand Slam winners Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza relegated to court two.
Wimbledon chief Richard Lewis said the schedule was based on fans’ demand but former players, including three-time champion Chris Evert, insisted it wasn’t good enough.
“I don’t think anyone’s suggesting it is fair,” said Murray.
“Ideally you would have two men’s and two women’s on Centre Court each day, potentially starting the matches a bit earlier would allow for that.
“It’s not the hardest thing to do but I don’t create the schedules and it’s not up to me.”
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