John Isner bounced the ball between his legs like the basketball player he could have been in another life and hammered down yet another ace on his way to ending Andy Murray’s Wimbledon dream.
Isner is the kind of player on which Murray used to feast, the big servers who had no answer when the Scot returned with interest.
Prior to Wednesday, Isner had played Murray nine times and lost nine times. He had only ever won four sets in those meetings.
On this occasion, however, Murray had no answer to the Isner serve. The secret he possessed for so many years deserted him as the giant American rained down 35 aces and won 84 percent of points on first serve.
It was more than that though. Isner’s serve generates a level of desperation in his opponents, and on this occasion, the Wimbledon crowd.
A successful return of a first serve brought with it gasps of excitement from the Centre Court faithful, roars would burst free if by some miracle Murray got to 15-30.
And then with a grim inevitability, Isner would pull out an ace here, an unreturnable serve there and maybe a dismissive volley at the net to complete the escape act.
Over the entire three hours and 23 minutes, Murray had just two break point opportunities, immediately after dropping his serve in the first set. He could not take them.
He never really came close again. It would not be a Murray match without a little fight, but the hopes of a comeback after the two-time champion pulled it back to two sets to one on a tie-break were quickly extinguished when Isner broke early in the fourth set.
From there, it was simply a case of how long the American would take to finish the job. He did so comprehensively with a 6-4 7-6 (4) 6-7 (3) 6-4 success.
Where a year ago, simply being back playing singles at Wimbledon was an achievement for Murray, this time around, his ambitions were much greater. Consequently, this was a defeat that really stung.
He said: “Last year was difficult for different reasons. I was obviously really looking forward to playing at Wimbledon, but at the same time I didn’t feel like my game was in a position to do well.
“Physically I was not in a good place. Whereas this year my game was certainly in a better place.
“I could have had a good run here. It’s one of those matches that, had I got through, who knows what would have happened.”
That sense of what might have been could prove the toughest part of this for Murray. The small margins that meant he has been so successful against the game’s big men, were not on his side.
The abdominal injury that disrupted his build-up may have played a part, and unquestionably a misfiring first serve over the first two sets was particularly costly when contrasted with Isner’s booming efforts.
Certainly, Murray still believes he has the game to challenge at the latter stages of Grand Slams.
The key to that will be improving his ranking to avoid the likes of Isner in the early stages of slams, that is Murray’s next ambition.
He said: “I was coming into Wimbledon feeling like I could have a deep run. I really want to try and improve my ranking to a level where I’m getting seeded in slams.
“If you’re playing against top guys right at the beginning of the event, obviously makes it a little bit more challenging. That’s kind of what my goals are between now and the US Open.”
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