By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – So far so serene for Andy Murray as the bastion of British tennis closes in on a second Wimbledon title.
The 29-year-old’s path to a ninth successive All England Club quarter-final, in which he faces Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, has been about as stressful as walking the dog on Wimbledon Common.
Three years ago Murray also cruised into the last eight but, with the hosts desperate for a first men’s champion for 77 years, near hysteria broke out as the Scot edged toward glory.
On the way he gave the British public palpitations, dropping two sets in the quarter-final against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco. There were sweaty palms too when fiery Pole Jerzy Janowicz snatched the first set of their semi-final.
Euphoric scenes greeted Murray’s victory over Novak Djokovic in the 2013 final — a redemptive moment for British tennis.
Since then Djokovic has been Murray’s nemesis and the world number one was supposed to be standing in his way this year before the Serbian top seed’s shock defeat by Sam Querrey on Saturday left the 29-year-old Scot as odds on favorite.
Murray has won 12 out of 12 sets so far, playing superbly.
There was even a sense of anti-climax in Monday’s third round when he dispatched Australia’s enfant terrible Nick Kyrgios with ease — after all British fans have a masochistic fascination for drama when it comes to cheering home hopes.
Frenchman Tsonga has the potential to oblige, though, when he meets Murray for the 16th time in their careers on Wednesday.
The last time they played at Wimbledon, in 2012, Murray won their semi-final in four sets but was reduced to tears in the final when Roger Federer claimed the title for a seventh time.
The effervescent Swiss could await again on Sunday, but Murray refuses to look beyond the next obstacle, fearing the kind of stumble that ended Djokovic’s title defense.
“I’m fully aware of how difficult my next opponent is,” Murray said. “I know Tsonga is one of the best grass court players in the world.If he plays well, and I’m not on my game, I can lose that match for sure.
“I have to stay focused on that one. Take it one match at a time. I know everyone goes, Oh, that’s boring. But that’s what you do as a professional.My job’s to try to win my next match, it’s not thinking about anything else.”
Despite twice grand slam champion Murray being favorite for the first time in his career to win the title, Tsonga rejected the notion the Scot might be feeling some extra pressure.
“To be honest, I don’t think he’s got a lot of pressure.I mean, he won here already.He won the Olympic Games.He won the U.S. Open (2012).He won so many tournaments.I think he’s feeling good in his body today,” the 12th seed said.
“He doesn’t feel the pressure at all.Everything is a bonus for him, I think.If I was him, it would be a bonus, for sure.”
For Tsonga, too, everything he achieves from here on in at this year’s tournament is a bonus — having come back from two sets down to beat John Isner 19-17 in the fifth in the third round after surviving a match point.
That is why the flamboyant shot-maker will be dangerous.
“To play in the quarter-final, it’s a good feeling, because I had some bad days at the start of the season,” said Tsonga, who has two Tour victories against Murray but has lost eight consecutive sets against him.
“Two days ago I was five all in the third set, 15‑40 against me, two sets to love down, and I came back.I’m still alive.
“So everything can happen in tennis.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris)