LONDON — One more pillar of the tennis aristocracy tumbled at The Championships on Wednesday and, at this rate, the good old boys at the AELTC might stage their showcase weekend with only their iconic green grass, yummy strawberries, and a pitcher of cream (sour?) as drawing cards.
Favorite UK son Andy Murray, who last year finally ended Her Majesty’s Royal Wimbledon Headache, exited in the quarterfinals, drummed off Centre Court by rising star Grigor Dimitrov, 6-1, 7-6, 6-2. Murray, the big-swinging Scotsman, never got his game in cadence, and ultimately fell prey to Dimitrov’s more efficient serves, cleaner ground strokes, and overall focus and composure.
It wasn’t a total whoopin’ that Dimitrov put on Murray, but rather a systematic dismantling, one that left the 27-year-old Murray sounding as if he were ready to drive himself to the nearest garage for a 100,000-mile tune-up.
“I need to go away and make a lot of improvements in my game,’’ he said, noting, in part, his disturbing number of unforced errors — a total 37 to his opponent’s 18. “I’ve lost a couple of matches in the last few Slams where I’ve lost in straight sets . . . played poorly. So I need to have a think about things I need to improve and get myself in better shape and work even harder.
“Because everyone’s starting to get better.’’
It has turned into the mantra of the fortnight. Everyone is getting better. For Murray, it meant the likes of the up-and-coming, strong-and-confident Dimitrov. But it also pointed to the unheralded Nick Kyrgios, who was back at work here Wednesday after stunning SW19 a day earlier with his dismissal of world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
It has turned into a Wimbledon of big names made small, not only among the men, but also the women. Serena Williams lost Saturday to Alize Cornet and golden girl Maria Sharapova was KO’d Tuesday by Angelique Kerber.
The hits just keep coming here, the biggest of them absorbed by the game’s richest, marquee names.
“I need to gain some motivation from it,’’ said Murray, the local darling who last year became the first British male winner here since Fred Perry in 1936. “Like I say, to get better [I must] make improvements . . . because other guys are getting better now.’’
The 6-foot-3-inch Dimitrov only once has reached a Slam quarterfinal before this tournament (at January’s Australian Open). A prized junior, he won the boys title here in 2008 at 17, but it has taken the better part of six years for his pro game to blossom at the elite level. The win over Murray stands as the Bulgarian’s biggest triumph and perhaps the one that will fix him among the likes of regular title contenders such as Murray, Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic — the latter two of whom also advanced.
Dimitrov, perhaps best known as Sharapova’s boyfriend, set down an easy track to victory over Murray with a very strong start, breaking him in only the fourth game. Murray managed the first point, then lost the next four, the kind of pattern that repeated throughout the day. Murray improved, especially in the middle set, but he routinely had to work harder in games while Dimitrov chopped away with relative ease.
“I wouldn’t call it easy,’’ said Dimitrov, pondering the entire match. “I think it was just a tense match.”
Murray lost his next service game, again not winning a point, and fell behind, 5-1. Dimitrov then promptly finished off the set with an overhead smash, allowing Murray but a single point in the seventh game. He dotted it with an overhead smash. Total time: 25 minutes. In his prior four matches, Murray hadn’t lost a set.
Upon arriving here, Dimitrov told the media he felt some of the game’s younger players, himself included, were on the cusp of becoming more prominent players on the world stage.
“What can I say? We want to win,’’ he said. “I mean, I think the younger guys, we want to come on that stage. We strive for this. I think we’re thirsty for that. We want to prove ourselves.’’
No question, he proved himself to Murray, and now he’ll have a chance to prove it again as he meets the mighty Djokovic in Friday’s semis. Djokovic needed all five sets to edge Marin Cilic, 6-1, 3-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-2. The legends are being made to work OT.
Murray, with new coach Amelie Mauresmo quietly encouraging him from the stands, gained momentum in the second and managed a late break to level at 4-4 and ultimately force a tiebreaker. The two split the first eight points in the breaker, Murray with the serve, only to have the daring Dimitrov rip a backhand pass by him for the 5-4 lead. Points 6 and 7 quickly followed for the two-set stranglehold.
The full house at Centre Court was left with little to cheer. Their humble favorite son knew there would be no coming back from 0-2. Fittingly, Murray lost the match on serve, drilling a baseline forehand directly into the net.
“I just played badly,’’ said the latest icon put asunder. “I’m disappointed with that. I have a lot to think about, maybe why that was. But often I think people overanalyze things and look at things too much in detail. I just didn’t play well and he played much better than me from the beginning to the end. That’s not going to add up to a good day at the office.’’Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.