By Toby Davis
LONDON (Reuters) - Andy Murray put the home fans through the wringer as he battled back from two sets down to book a place in the Wimbledon semi-finals with an edgy victory over unseeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco on Wednesday.
The number two seed showed he is physically among the toughest players on the tour as he dug deep to drag himself back into the match, but there was also a nervous vulnerability about the way he went about securing a 4-6 3-6 6-1 6-4 7-5 win.
This was meant to be a walk in the park for Murray, who had an 8-1 winning record against the 54th-ranked Spanish claycourt specialist with limited grasscourt pedigree.
It swiftly turned into an uphill struggle as Verdasco had the U.S. Open champion on the rack, firing down bullet serves and letting rip with rasping forehand winners.
The fact that Murray kept alive his hopes of becoming the first British man to win at Wimbledon for 77 years is testament to his undoubted stamina, but he was perhaps let off the hook when a better player would have turned the screw.
Having played with freedom for the first two sets, Verdasco retreated into his shell, allowing Murray to gain a foothold in the match.
Even when Murray had leveled at two sets each, he did not look like he had the confidence to cut loose. The second serve that seems to slow down as the tension levels rise was a soft target throughout the match.
NIP AND TUCK
In the end it came down to a nip and tuck decider and Murray capitalized on the only break-point opportunity of the final set.
"I think when you play more and more matches and gain more experience you understand how to turn matches around and how to change the momentum of games," Murray said after coming back to win from two sets down for the seventh time in his career.
"That can be tactical; sometimes it can be your opponent. But often you need to be the one making the change. Maybe when I was younger, I could have lost that match.
"But I think I've learnt how to come back from tough situations more as I got older."
Murray will face 6-foot-8 Pole Jerzy Janowicz for a place in Sunday's final in his fifth consecutive Wimbledon semi-final appearance.
He had reached the final of his last three grand slams, but he found himself under early pressure as Verdasco broke to take the first set after 45 minutes.
That was the first set Murray had dropped all tournament but the world number two shook off the disappointment to take a 3-1 lead in the second.
His tame second serve came back to haunt him, however, and he was broken in the sixth and eighth games. When Murray failed to convert any of the three break points he had in the ninth game, Verdasco surged to a two-set lead.
Faced with a mountain to climb, Murray lost the tightness that had marked the first two sets, breaking twice to take the third comfortably and edging a close fourth.
After breaking in the 11th game of the fifth set, Murray rifled down an ace to bring up three match points and clenched his fist in relief when Verdasco sent a forehand long.
"He served extremely well, and, because of that serve he's able to dictate points with his forehand," Murray said.
"When he's doing that, he's incredibly tough to beat."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)