LONDON // Nobody ever wishes for rain at Wimbledon but late on Saturday evening there were a fair number of "anoraks" in a record sixth-day crowd of 43,432 who would not have minded a few drops falling on the hallowed Centre Court turf. That would have led to Andy Murray making history as the first player to win a match under the All England Club's much-vaunted roof which has been constructed (many years too late) at a reported cost of £100million (Dh605m)
The British No 1 was not interested in making that quirky entry into the compendium of records of the world's greatest tennis tournament. He is aiming for a much more important place on the roll of honour containing the illustrious name of former men's singles champions. Like former world No 1 Andy Roddick, who performed in advance of Murray under leaden skies, the priority was completing the first week's business with minimal fuss and start thinking about the serious part of the tournament.
Roddick accomplished that objective impressively, but by no means as impressively as Murray, who looks every inch a world No 3 and aspiring grand slam champion as he made the hapless Serbian Victor Troicki his latest victim on his mission to bring to an end his nation's 63-year wait for a first men's winner since the late Fred Perry. Tim Henman went agonisingly close to realising that seemingly impossible British dream and if there had been a roof over Centre Court in 2001, he would surely have prevented Goran Ivanisevic from going through to a final which he won so dramatically that year against Pat Rafter.
Rain thwarted an archetypal English gentleman then. Nothing, it seems can stop, the latest portrayer of the Scottish role of "Braveheart" here - at least until next Sunday's final when the five-time winner Roger Federer is likely to be in attendance for the seventh successive year. Even the swaggering Federer, who has looked majestic in strolling through the first three rounds, will be worried about Murray's threatening presence in the opposite half of the draw, though.
The Scot seems to have the number of the Swiss maestro, beating him in on six out of eight previous meetings, although it has to be said that the two Federer victories both came in finals, notably at the US Open last September. Murray has since avenged that defeat on four occasions - five if you count that excellent but unsanctioned exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi in January - but sensibly he is not looking beyond today's fourth-round confrontation with his good friend Stanislas Wawrinka, the Swiss supporting cast to Federer.
Murray is aware, though, that a daunting quarter-final against the ferociously hard-hitting Chilean Fernando Gonzalez and a potential repeat of his painful exit at the same stage of the French Open cannot now take place. Gonzalez, the 10th seed, was ousted in a five-set thriller by a rejuvenated former Roland Garros champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, who will now take his place against world No 7 Gilles Simon today for the right to meet Murray or Wawrinka.
Ferrero has gone beyond the fourth round only once in eight visits here, while Simon, who also prefers clay to grass, will be figuring in the second week for the first time after accounting for Romania's Victor Hanescu on Saturday. Murray will prefer either of those to another Gonzalez slugfest. Murray, who entertained 24 of his nation's Olympic champions - including one of his Scottish idols Sir Chris Hoy - on what is traditionally People's Saturday, knows the tremendous form he has shown so far will probably not be good enough to take him all the way to the title. "I have to play even better from now on," he declared.
Murray occupies the same tea- time slot on Centre Court this evening as he has filled throughout the tournament so far, and is at ease with that. Federer opens the second week in a repeat of his French Open final against Sweden's Robin Soderling and it would be a shock if a head-to-head record of 10-0 was not improved. Greater threats to Federer, favourite to regain his title since the holder Rafael Nadal pulled out three days before the tournament, may come in the quarter-finals from the big-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic and in the semi-finals from world No 4 Novak Djokovic - providing they all get that far.
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