LONDON - When Any Murray dropped the first two sets of his Wimbledon quarterfinal Wednesday, the 15,000 Centre Court spectators were reduced to a silence so complete that birds could be heard chirping.
By the time his five-set comeback was nearly complete, more than two hours later, the fans were greeting each point that went Murray's way with celebrations of the sort normally reserved for a championship. It's been 77 years since a British man won the country's Grand Slam tennis tournament, and thanks to the second-seeded Murray's 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 victory over 54th-ranked Fernando Verdasco, the locals still can hold out hope the wait will end Sunday.
Murray will play in the semifinals at the All England Club for the fifth consecutive year Friday, facing No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz of Poland. The other semifinal is No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia against No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina.
There is no doubt who will be the recipient of the most boisterous support.
"Great atmosphere at the end of the match. ... I love it when it's like that. It was extremely noisy," said Murray, who lost last year's Wimbledon final to Roger Federer. "They were right into it, pretty much every single point."
Murray needed to summon some strong tennis, and plenty of grit, for his seventh career victory. He never panicked — no matter what all of his self-admonishing muttering and gesticulating looked like — and eventually figured out how to handle Verdasco's powerful serves and high-risk, high-reward style.
"When you play more and more matches, and gain more experience, you understand how to turn matches around and how to change the momentum of games," Murray said. "Maybe when I was younger, I could have lost that match. But I've learnt how to come back from tough situations more as I got older."
He's only 26, but he truly has matured as a player over the past 12 months. After shedding tears following the 2012 Wimbledon final, Murray returned to the same spot four weeks later and beat Federer to win a gold medal at the London Olympics. Then, at the U.S. Open in September, he defeated Djokovic to win his first Grand Slam title.
Wednesday's other quarterfinals lasted a mere three sets each and the most compelling segments came at the very beginning of 2009 U.S. Open champion del Potro's 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (5) win against No. 4 David Ferrer, and the very end of Janowicz's 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 victory over 130th-ranked Lukasz Kubot in the first Grand Slam match between two men from Poland.
Janowicz, 22, reached his first major semifinal — the first for a man from his country — by pounding down 30 aces, and saving all six break points he faced. When it finished, Kubot walked around the net to Janowicz's side of the court and the pair of Davis Cup teammates embraced and exchanged shirts.
Janowicz sat in his sideline chair, covered his face and sobbed.
"It's not easy to control all of the feelings inside my body," he said. "I was never in (a major) quarterfinal before. I never had a chance to be in (the) semifinal of a Grand Slam. I never played against Lukasz before."
Janowicz gave a succinct answer when asked for his thoughts about the semifinal between Djokovic vs. del Potro: "I don't care."
On the fifth point del Potro played Wednesday, his left foot slid out from under him as he sprinted to reach a ball. Del Potro's heavily wrapped left knee, which he hyperextended on a face-first tumble in the third round, slackened, then bent backward.
"Really painful," del Potro said. "I was scared."
He fell to the turf and rolled over twice, then stayed down until a trainer came out to check on him and dispense anti-inflammatory medicine.
"Magic pills," del Potro called them.
After a 10-minute break, he resumed playing — and playing quite well.
He hasn't lost a set en route to his first Wimbledon semifinal. Djokovic also has won all 15 sets he's played, including in a 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 7 Tomas Berdych to reach a 13th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, the second-longest streak in men's tennis history behind Roger Federer's 23.
Djokovic entered Wednesday with a 13-2 lead in their head-to-head series, but one loss came at Wimbledon in 2010, when Berdych was the runner-up, and the other came in their most recent meeting, at Rome in May. The first set was tight, and Berdych led 5-4 in the tiebreaker before faltering. He sent a return long, badly missed what should have been a routine backhand, then pushed a forehand wide for another error.
That gave Djokovic the opening set, but Berdych responded strongly, breaking twice to lead 3-0 in the second. Not surprisingly, Djokovic awoke again, taking seven of the next eight games.
"I don't know how I managed to turn the second set around," said six-time major champion Djokovic, who won Wimbledon in 2011. "I managed to step in and just tried to be a little bit more aggressive. That brought me a victory."
He's 8-3 against del Potro. The last time they met, though, in March at Indian Wells, Djokovic lost. And the last time they played at the All England Club, in the bronze-medal match at the Olympics, Djokovic lost, too.
"He's very tall, so he uses that serve as a powerful weapon. And of course (the) forehand, that is his signature shot," Djokovic said. "You know, its semifinals, so everything is open, on the table."
The early eliminations of Federer and Rafael Nadal from the tournament opened up the draw for Murray, who has as good a chance as anyone to claim a trophy no British man has earned since Fred Perry in 1936.
That certainly seemed in peril when Verdasco grabbed a two-set lead.
"The second set," Murray said, "was a bad set of tennis for me."
But he broke to go ahead 2-0 in the third, which he wrapped up rather easily.
"Gave him a lot of confidence," Verdasco said.
Trailing 3-2 in the fourth, Murray faced two break points. Said Verdasco: "The match wouldn't have been over, but I would have been real close."
Murray erased one break point with a service winner, the other with an ace. Then he broke in the very next game, during which Verdasco complained to the chair umpire about too much noise during the course of play — the "oohs" and "aahs," the yelps of excitement, the groans of disappointment.
Quickly, Murray took the fourth set, too.
In the fifth, Verdasco led 4-3 when Murray fell behind love-30 while serving. Again, Murray came through, taking the next four points to make it 4-4.
"They gave him strength," Verdasco said. "How much, you don't know. But having the crowd's support can help."
At 5-5, a 21-stroke exchange closed with Verdasco dropping a backhand into the net to give Murray a break point, the last he would need. Murray came up with one of several superb returns, and Verdasco missed a forehand. That made it 6-5, and Murray served out the match to love.
"Verdasco played very well," said Murray's coach, eight-time major champion Ivan Lendl. "Andy did what he had to do to win."
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