Dimitrov spoils party for Murray, fans

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LONDON -- These are the days everyone here lives for, the sky dotted with small white clouds and impossibly blue as glorious sunshine warmed the stately grounds at the All England Club.

The local hero, Andy Murray, was playing on a jam-packed Centre Court in front of adoring fans; Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and his wife, Kate -- sans Prince George -- watched attentively from the royal box. On Henman Hill, thousands followed the action on the big screen attached to Court No. 1.

Everything was in its proper place Wednesday -- with the single exception of Murray's opponent, Grigor Dimitrov.

The 23-year-old Bulgarian showed no deference to the defending champion, cleaning Murray's clock 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-2.

On a day featuring four delicious men's quarterfinal matchups, this one was a complete stunner. Dimitrov's response was restrained and almost subdued, perhaps because he considers Murray a good friend. While Murray waited for Dimitrov to pack his bags, the crowd fell awfully, eerily silent.

Dimitrov is through to the first major semifinal of his career.

"I'm just happy I went through that match in straight sets," Dimitrov said minutes afterward. "It's never easy to play Andy, especially with the home crowd. As soon as he stared warming up, I noticed his game wasn't at the highest level."

It is said that in a few years' time the club will install a new amphitheater-style court to be named after Murray. This two-hour match won't be one of the highlights played at the opening ceremony.

Murray, who had been looking for his sixth consecutive appearance in the Wimbledon semifinals, saw his 17-match winning streak at the All England Club come to an end. Dimitrov, following the example 19-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios set against Rafael Nadal the day before, beat a top-10 player in a Grand Slam for the first time.

Was there something wrong with Murray?

"No," he said, pointedly. "I started the match badly, and I think that gave him confidence. He was the better player from start to finish. Whatever the tactics were, I didn't execute them as well as I would have liked."

Murray came into his own two years ago, reaching the final at Wimbledon, then winning the Olympic gold medal and the US Open. This year, the stylish Dimitrov has entered his prime. It may not be a coincidence that this victory will vault Dimitrov ahead of Murray in the ATP World Tour rankings and into the top 10 for the first time.

Dimitrov reached the first major quarterfinal of his career earlier this year in Melbourne. At Wimbledon, he was one of five newcomers to the quarterfinals. Along with Kyrgios and Milos Raonic, he is part of what looks to be an inevitable changing of the guard. Dimitrov entered the match as a 16-to-1 shot in the eyes of the British bookmakers.

How do they like him now that he has won all nine of his matches this year on grass and 10 in a row overall?

Murray came into the match having dropped only 32 games at Wimbledon, tied with Roger Federer for the fewest of any quarterfinalist. It was Murray's best start here through four matches. That's what made Murray's demise in the first set so surprising. It was so sudden it almost didn't register. He looked tentative and cautious, almost listless, like Murray circa 2010. His body language, so positive recently, reverted to the slumping, eye-rolling, surly Scot from early in his career.

In a span of 25 minutes, Dimitrov -- aggressive, moving exceptionally well and serving flawlessly -- won 6 of 7 games and 26 of 38 points. That ended a run of 18 consecutive set wins here for Murray. The look on coach Amelie Mauresmo's face in the Murray box went well beyond mere concern.

In the seventh game of the second set, Murray played another uncharacteristically loose game. At deuce, he stroked a backhand that drifted well wide and followed that with a nonchalant backhand that was long. Dimitrov, who converted his third break point in four opportunities, took a 4-3 lead.

Murray, in his first flash of positivity, broke right back when a suddenly nervy Dimitrov missed three straight backhands. At 5-all, Murray dug himself a 15-40 hole but escaped with three big serves, the last a 130 mph ace, his fastest serve to that point.

But in the second-set tiebreaker, Dimitrov's sublime skill surfaced. At 4-all he hit a lovely one-handed backhand pass. At 5-4 he hit a delicate backhand drop volley that drew a gasp from the crowd. Another backhand volley gave him the second set, and suddenly Great Britain's favorite son looked like the crisp, brown grass along the Centre Court baseline.

They had hummed along into the sixth game of the third set when Murray made another startling donation. A casual backhand and a horrific double fault -- a good foot wide -- gave Dimitrov a 4-2 lead, which he wasted no time consolidating.

"The only thing I can say is I have two more matches to play," said Dimitrov, humbled by his achievement. "I just need to stay on course."

Murray's victory here a year ago ended a 77-year drought for British men. Afterward, he said the pressure to repeat did not contribute to the loss to Dimitrov.

"To be honest," Murray said, "I handled the pressure fine. Today was a bad day from my side. I made many mistakes. I don't feel like it had any bearing on the outcome of the tournament.

"The younger guys are becoming more mature and improving all the time. I need to take some improvements to my game."

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