The revolving door of tennis swivelled with dizzying speed again here , but stalled briefly as Andy Murray confirmed his comeback win was no chimera. He remains tantalisingly poised short of the semi-finals in a tournament he has won a record five times, five months after career-saving hip surgery, and just hours after his Argentinian friend, Juan Martín del Potro, cast doubt on his own future before an operation on his cracked knee-cap.
Murray and Feliciano López, who beat the No 1 seeds Juan Sebastián Cabal and Robert Farah in straight sets on Thursday, went to work in fading light on Friday against the British pair, Dan Evans and Ken Skupski, in another tight thriller. They were 6-4 up and 4-5 down when a high-grade contest was called off under gloomy skies at 8.50pm, half an hour before sunset on the longest day of the year.
Had the scheduled started rolling just a little earlier than noon, they might have got a result in this quarter-final. The players will resume on Saturday, although squeezing it in to an already concertinaed programme will be tricky.
López is in the semi-finals of the singles, mid-afternoon, against the exciting young Canadian, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and the doubles semi is slotted in as the last match on Centre Court. The 37-year-old Spaniard, a champion here in 2017, could end up playing three matches in a row on the same court.
Waiting for the delayed winners will be John Peers and Henri Kontinen, who earlier beat Murray’s brother, Jamie, and his new partner, Neal Skupski, Ken’s brother, 7-5, 7-6 (6).
Meanwhile, in a downbeat statement from Barcelona, where he will go under the knife on Saturday, Del Potro, whose career has been blighted by injury since he won the US Open 10 years ago, said: “I hope my knee can heal properly. If that match was the last of one my career [beating Denis Shapovolov here], that I don’t know. This is a tough moment. It’s sad to go through all this once again.”
A small cloud also drifted across Murray’s world when Nicolas Mahut, the regular doubles partner of Pierre-Hugues Herbert, who will play at Wimbledon with the Scot, presented a grumpy face when asked how he felt about being dumped. “I don’t want to talk about this doubles team,” he said. “The only one who needs to know what I think is Pierre. We talked together but I won’t come into the press to say what I think about this situation.”
Herbert was more forthcoming on social media. “It’s safe to say that it’s not the cleanest move,” he said. “I will play doubles when I said I wouldn’t. But it is exceptional to play with Murray at Wimbledon.”
Mahut will play with Édouard Roger-Vasselin at Wimbledon and get back together Herbert at the US Open. Murray, if he plays at Flushing Meadows in September, might even be ready to play singles.
Across the landscape, change is in the air. Auger-Aliassime strengthened his credentials as a major new force in the game when he played two superb sets to dislodge the top seed, Stefanos Tsitsipas, just two years older than him at 20 and equally bristling with promise.
The Greek world No 8, a cerebral as well as physical presence, reacted with maturity and insight to the Canadian teenager’s 7-5, 6-2 win in the quarter-finals. “He’s the most difficult opponent I’ve ever faced,” he said. “He has one of the best returns on the tour. He has a really powerful, accurate serve, which is tough to read. He’s really quick and fast. It is rare to find all of that combined. He can create a lot of opportunities from his backhand, but also, at the same time, he can be very aggressive from the forehand side. There’s not much to come up with when you play against him.”
Tsitsipas predicted Auger-Aliassime could master even the class and experience of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal – a report card the winner could have composed himself – if he wasn’t such a level-headed young player.
Auger-Aliassime, who began the year outside the top 100 and will go to Wimbledon inside the top 20, said: “It’s humbling. I appreciate that from him, because he’s beaten these players. How do I explain it? I think it’s the result of a lot of work over years and months.”
On Saturday, he plays López, who is more than twice his age and who played solidly but with dashes of flair to end the run of Auger-Aliassime’s compatriot, Milos Raonic, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in two hours 16 minutes.