-- LONDON -- They say a cat is arguably the most agile creature out there. They can claw their way out of nearly any jam and escape even the most daunting foe with rapid reaction and iron will.
Sounds an awful lot like Andy Murray, doesn't it?
Case in point: At 1-1 in a third-set tiebreaker on Monday, Murray was scrambling side to side, seemingly out of the point. Impossibly, he scooped up a low-hanging ball off the baseline and flicked it for a clean cross-court winner. And then, at 1-2 in the 'breaker, an off-balance Murray short-hopped a ball off the baseline, did a circus-like backward 360 spin, sent the ball back deep into his opponent's court, rushed the net, and stuck a high backhand volley into the open court. And then at 3-4, Murray returned a 115 mph serve into his body and was pulled off the court, yet somehow lunged and smacked another cross-court screamer.
This is what professional tennis players do, but Murray just happens to do it a little better than most, as he showed in a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) win over Kevin Anderson to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
If you're wondering about Murray's form, we can tell you this: The defending champ has played four matches and hasn't lost a set. Oh, and unlike many of his brethren, Murray has deftly dodged all the rain the past few days, which will ensure him a day off in between matches the rest of the way.
The match, which was stopped for 27 minutes in the second set to close the roof, lasted 2 hours, 32 minutes, though it seemed quite a bit shorter than that. Anderson is a tower at 6-foot-8 and serves cannons as consistently as anyone on tour. He ended points quickly with a devastating serve and forehand. Under the 80 million pound dome, Anderson began to find his range. His serves began to penetrate a little more and Murray became visibly more tentative.
"Well, obviously everything was going my way when we stopped, and then, yeah, it's different conditions," Murray said. "I mean, most players will tell you that there's a big difference between playing indoors and outdoors. "It changes the way the court plays.
"I created many chances, gave him a few opportunities. That's what you need to do on grass-court tennis. You don't always break. But if you keep putting them under enough pressure, you're going to get through in the end."
But here's where it gets interesting for Murray. Next up is Grigor Dimitrov, who is turning a few heads right now. And no, we're not talking about his strikingly good looks. The Bulgarian, who on Monday finished off Leonardo Mayer in straight sets, has won a career-best nine straight matches, which includes a title at Queen's Club just before Wimbledon.
Dimitrov, who hired well-respected coach Roger Rasheed last year, has added serious muscle to his game, and it looks like he might finally live up to the expectations he's been burdened with since he appeared on the tennis scene.
"He's a more mature player now, I think," Murray said. "He makes better decisions on the court than he used to. I mean, watching him play, his strokes and stuff, technically he hasn't made many changes to his game. But he's playing higher-percentage tennis, making better decisions. That adds up to winning many more matches.
"So he can obviously hit a lot of different shots. He has a lot of variety in his game. Sometimes it takes time to know how to use that properly. He's starting to do that now."
Wawrinka looking Oz good as he has in a while
The Stan Wawrinka reincarnation started well over a year ago. Life among the inner sanctum of the tennis world has become fruitful, so much so that we even hinted at the crumbling of the Big Four.
Sacrilege, we know, but how can you argue when the guy was busy winning tournaments in Monte Carlo and that little one in Melbourne, Australia?
Wawrinka had it all going on -- and then the French Open happened. Against Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Wawrinka was sent back to Switzerland after only four sets of play. All the aspirations and expectations gone before the first day had expired.
In tennis parlance, we call this a reality check, which is why we weren't ready to fete him anytime too soon here in London.
But here we are again. With a swift 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 win over Denis Istomin on Monday, Wawrinka quietly finds himself in the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time since 2009.
That's the good news. The bad is that because this match was scheduled to be played Saturday (rain, anyone?), the fifth-seeded Swiss would have to play five matches in seven days if he wants to replicate his Aussie Open title.
Certainly, the congested schedule could be an issue moving forward. Though Wawrinka's coach, Magnus Norman, thinks it may be a little more than an issue.
"It's not really human, but we're not complaining," he said. "We know what we have to do, and we'll just try to focus on one point at a time and one match at a time."
And if Wawrinka is lucky enough to escape that one ... Roger Federer could wait.
Cilic makes his return known
A year ago, Marin Cilic pulled out of Wimbledon with a knee injury. Or so we thought.
Turns out he was suspended because he failed a drug test.
The ruse didn't fool anyone. The overwhelming consensus was that his withdrawal was part of a doping cover-up, which was later confirmed when the International Tennis Federation announced Cilic had voluntarily accepted a provisional suspension.
But that was then. These days, Cilic is busy clocking 33 aces and 59 winners against his feeble Wimbledon foes. It just so happens those were his exact stats in a 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-4 win against Jeremy Chardy on Monday.
Cilic, who has an ideal grass game, is on to the quarterfinals here for the first time.
Long match, quick work
The total match time took 3 hours, 13 minutes. But when Kei Nishikori returned to the court after his rain-suspended match from Saturday, he needed only four games to finish Simone Bolleli 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4.
At one time, Nishikori was hailed as one of the next great up-and-comers, but injuries, including a bothersome back just prior to the French Open, have derailed a good part of his career. But before the start of the grass-court season, Nishikori declared he was healthy and ready to give the grass a go.
He reached the Halle semifinals before running into a certain 17-time Grand Slam winner, and now Nishikori is on to the fourth round at the All England Club for the first time ever.
With respect to Bolleli, Nishikori's next task might be slightly more daunting. That's because another major talent, Milos Raonic, awaits. The Canadian hasn't dropped a set and has had two days off.
As for Nishikori? He said he is mentally tired after his long wait to finish his third-rounder.
Sounds like we might know how this one is going to go.