Wim­ble­don From jour­ney­man to gi­ant-killer

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

LON­DON — This time last year, Gilles Muller was an un­her­alded 33-year-old jour­ney­man from Lux­em­bourg with­out a sin­gle ti­tle on the ATP Tour.

One of the many men who travel the world, play­ing in the lesser tour­na­ments, pick­ing up mod­est ap­pear­ance fees, Muller’s record and age sug­gested he would end his ca­reer as barely a foot­note in the an­nals of the sport.

His sec­ond-round ap­pear­ance at the All Eng­land Club last year was barely no­ticed, un­der­stand­ably for a player who had made the last eight at a Grand Slam event just once in his ca­reer — at the US Open in 2008.

But on Mon­day, the left­hander from Lux­em­bourg pro­duced one of the most mem­o­rable up­sets in the his­tory of Wim­ble­don, beat­ing 15-time Grand Slam cham­pion Rafa Nadal in an as­ton­ish­ing 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 15-13 bat­tle that lasted four hours and 48 min­utes.

Muller puts his de­layed emer­gence down to a 2013 el­bow in­jury that nearly ended his ca­reer and kept him off the courts for months to work on fit­ness and other as­pects of his game.

“This is def­i­nitely the big­gest vic­tory since I came back, es­pe­cially at that stage of a Grand Slam, play­ing one of the guys who is dom­i­nat­ing the sport again this year. It’s def­i­nitely my big­gest win,” he said.

“Since 2014 when I came back, I’m able to play full sea­sons with­out any breaks. I have a lot of con­fi­dence in my body now, which I didn’t have be­fore.

“All this is chang­ing a lot for me. For sure that has been the key for me in the last few years, to be that suc­cess­ful.”

While viewed as a grass­court spe­cial­ist, Muller can be an awk­ward op­po­nent with his fond­ness for old-school serve-and-vol­ley play.

Although he had beaten Nadal 12 years ago at Wim­ble­don, few gave him a chance on Mon­day against the fourth seed and French Open cham­pion.

But Muller has risen up the rankings this year, cap­tur­ing his first two ti­tles on the tour, in Syd­ney and then on grass at Den Bosch in the lead up to Wim­ble­don.

He is ranked No 26 in the world but his com­fort on grass earned him a 16th seed at Wim­ble­don — a plac­ing that he has more than jus­ti­fied.

Cool to the point of be­ing emo­tion­less, Muller coped with giv­ing up a two-set lead to the Spa­niard and then con­tin­ued, un­ruf­fled, through the marathon two hours, 15 min­utes of the fi­nal set be­fore seal­ing vic­tory.

Muller had been un­able to take ad­van­tage of four match points prior to the de­ci­sive game and when he fi­nally clinched vic­tory, the calm­ness he showed through­out the match re­mained.

“A lot of re­lief. I had those match points be­fore. I mean, the noise the crowd made ev­ery time Rafa saved a match point was just mas­sive,” he said.

“So at that mo­ment ... in my head I was think­ing, ‘We have to fin­ish this now or oth­er­wise we’re go­ing to come back to­mor­row’. I knew it was go­ing to be maybe an­other 10, 15 more min­utes max­i­mum.

“Just a lot of re­lief to fi­nally get it done.”

Next up for Muller is sev­enth-seeded Croa­t­ian Marin Cilic, who beat him on grass last month at Queen’s Club.

“It’s go­ing to be a tough match, for sure,” said Muller.

Maybe. But af­ter Mon­day’s mag­nif­i­cent hero­ics, who would bet against the man from Schif­flange, pop­u­la­tion 9,332, pro­duc­ing an­other up­set?

This is def­i­nitely the big­gest vic­tory since I came back ... def­i­nitely my big­gest win.”

Gilles Muller,

MATTHEW CHILDS / REUTERS

Gilles Muller

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