The enormous roar that Andy Murray let out after finally seeing off Steve Johnson told you everything you needed to know about this edgy Olympic quarter-final.
The defending Olympic champion was well below his best in Rio yesterday, but somehow found a way to scrap past his American opponent 6-0, 4-6, 7-6 (7/2) to keep his shot at history alive.
No man has ever won back-to-back Olympic titles but Murray is now guaranteed a shot at a medal after securing a semi-final berth.
He looked in supreme control in the first set as Johnson failed to settle and he rattled it off without losing a game inside 25 minutes.
But after that Murray retreated into his shell, his backhand went to pot and Johnson’s forehand began to dictate proceedings, taking the second set with a single break of the Murray serve.
And when an exquisite lob in the final set sealed another break – Murray was staring down the barrel of a shock upset.
But not for nothing is Murray the defending Olympic and Wimbledon champion and the 29-year-old maintained his ten-match winning streak in Team GB colours by breaking back and sealing the victory on a tiebreak.
“We didn’t get to hit balls before the match because of the rain,” said Murray.
“He just started slow and came back into it, played very much better. He was getting plenty of the balls, [indistinct]. These are quicker courts so I expected a tough one.
“It didn’t feel too slow to me. It was quite lively. It’s the wind that’s making it challenging. It’s very breezy out there. The courts are wide open.”
Murray is now guaranteed a shot at a medal, but gold will require him seeing off Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the semi-final.
Even if he loses – there is the consolation of a bronze medal match – and Murray just cannot get enough of the Olympic atmosphere.
“It’s been difficult in tough conditions, after great starts. I was close to going out. Some times that can work in your favour. But you want to play a little bit better, loosen up a little bit,” he added.
“It feels different. This is special. We don’t get this opportunity all of the time, competing for medals for your country, that’s special. For me, it’s got nothing to do with having won the gold medal in London. It’s just about trying to win more medals for your country and the team.”
Murray’s has now won 27 of his last 28 matches, a run of form that has coincided with a slip from his perennial rival Novak Djokovic who went out in the first round here in Rio.
And the 29-year-old Murray – who competed later on Friday night in the mixed doubles with Heather Watson – is desperate to keep his run going.
“Yeah. It’s been good. Regarding the winning streak, before that as well, I played well in the French, and Rome and Madrid as well, on clay courts. It’s been a good few months,” he added.
“Well yeah, I want to go in and recover now but there’s no time, to cool down and all those things, after two hours and having to play next in an hour’s time. I need to go and rest ...”
In the other semi-final, Juan Martin Del Potro – the conqueror of Novak Djokovic – will take on Rafael Nadal.
Argentina’s Del Potro ousted Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 7-6 (7/4), while Nadal defeated Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci 2-6, 6-4, 6-2. It means Del Potro will need to pass another Iberian if he is to win a gold medal.
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