Liveried in regulation green and purple and an anachronism at an All England Club that has long been digitised, the resolutely old school, manually operated order of play board outside Centre Court is one of Wimbledon’s more popular locations for souvenir selfies.
To post the names of those players starring on the show courts, officials must ascend a wooden ladder and while Andy Murray has been box office round Wimbledon way for more than a decade, it is a measure of Johanna Konta’s recent progress that on a day when all 32 remaining competitors in both the men’s and women’s singles were playing, the highest steps were once again pressed into service to help signpost the British No1’s exalted status among her sport’s elite.
On a day billed alliteratively by the BBC as Magical Manic Monday, the duo made their respective opponents disappear to become the first British man and woman to advance to the last eight of the same championships since 1973. It was in that year the United Kingdom became a fully fledged member of the European Community, a state of affairs which suggests that for tennis – a sport one suspects which has no shortage of Brexiteers among its Panama hat-wearing Middle England following – some good has finally come from the decision last year to leave.
A four-times first-round loser at Wimbledon before falling at the second hurdle last year, Konta looked blissfully unencumbered by the dual burdens of tournament favouritism and local expectation as she enhanced her burgeoning status by advancing to the quarter-finals of the women’s singles at the expense of Caroline Garcia. Konta carries herself with the poise and confidence of a prospective champion and, in a women’s draw that could scarcely be more open, now finds herself three matches away from having the Venus Rosewater Dish to show for it.
In the next round Konta will face Romania’s Simona Halep and ought have no fear. She showed precious little in dispatching Garcia, her younger French opponent who found the net for the second consecutive point to ease Konta’s passage at the earliest opportunity.
Meanwhile on Centre Court, Murray had French opposition of his own to contend with in the form of Benoît Paire, a bearded hipster with a repertoire of flash shots and a questionable weakness for drop shots that regularly let him down. He provided stiffer opposition for the British No1 than expected, forcing the first set to a tie‑break and prompting no end of self-flagellation from Murray, who could be seen angrily remonstrating with himself and the occupants of his box as early as the second game.
There was no such spikiness from Konta, whose commendable zen‑like serenity in the face of the Big Points was only briefly ruffled by a frank exchange of views with the umpire Marija Cicak over one of several Hawk-Eye challenges to go against her. Still seething, she followed up with three unforced errors before getting her own, more important challenge back on the rails. While two similarly unforced errors by Garcia cost her the match, it could be argued that Konta won it with a fizzing backhand pass to make it 30-30 on her opponent’s serve in the final game. The atmosphere crackled as the crowd roared their encouragement and two rallies later the first British woman to make the quarter‑finals since Jo Durie in 1984 sank to her knees before skipping jubilantly towards the net for the post‑match handshake. Evidently not one to dwell too long on what was a fine triumph, she was more eager to discuss the white raspberry and chocolate muffins she had baked earlier in the day than any aspect of her game by the time her post‑match press conference came around.
Murray, too, had his own skirmish with officialdom, taking umpire Mohamed Lahyani to task for refusing him a challenge on serve early in the third set despite first appearing to acknowledge it. “You said challenge because you heard me say challenge,” Murray protested. “No! No! No!” As they continued the debate from their respective chairs during the changeover, Lahyani magnanimously conceded that he had been wrong. Paire, by contrast, conceded little easily and on an afternoon when he struggled to find any sort of rhythm Murray’s victory was less convincing than the straight sets suggested despite his assertion that “today was by far the best I hit the ball”.
A lot done, more to do, then, after an often chilly day at Wimbledon where it was left to British tennis’s two biggest stars to warm the public cockles. For Murray, set to make his 10th consecutive quarter-final appearance, this is nothing new but he seemed enthused by the emergence of a compatriot and “new role model” to share the burden of second-week public expectation. He could, though, be forgiven for sounding just a little bit mournful as he observed that perhaps the main benefit in getting another Brit to the quarter‑finals is that “a lot of people in this country don’t like watching me play”.