Andy Murray reached the third round at Wimbledon with a controversial four-set win over Ivo Karlovic – before seeing his title hopes boosted when arch-rival Rafael Nadal suffered a shock exit.
The British No 1’s chances of becoming the first British Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry in 1936 rose significantly when Nadal was dumped out of the tournament by unheralded Czech Lukas Rosol.
Suddenly the door to the final has swung open, with Nadal having been in Murray’s half of the draw.
The pair were seeded to clash in the semi-finals, the stage at which Nadal has beaten Murray in each of the last two years.
Against big-serving Karlovic, Murray needed to show formidable mental strength to come through 7-5 6-7 (7/5) 6-2 7-6 (7/4), with the Scot recovering from dropping the second set to edge through in a fourth-set tie-break.
But Karlovic, at 6ft 10in the tallest player ever to be ranked in the top 100, was left furious after being called for a succession of foot faults, including one in the final tie-break.
The 33-year-old, a former Wimbledon quarter-finalist, said: “In my whole life, ever since I was eight years old, I didn’t do this many foot faults.
“It was never called when it was 30-0 or 40-0, it was always when it was 30-30 or in a tie-break. I mean, what is this? Is it Davis Cup or is it Wimbledon? After this match, the whole credibility of this tournament went down for me.
“After I don’t know how many, I stood a little bit back so they could not call it and they still did. It was outrageous. It’s Wimbledon, Centre Court, and they do this.”
Murray was diplomatic on the subject but admitted he had no idea whether the foot-fault calls were correct.
He said: “That’s very tough to question the integrity of Wimbledon, I would have thought.
“It’s got a lot of history, a lot of tradition. There’s been hundreds of thousands of matches played here over the years. I’ve never heard that before. But I need to see the videos. If there were 11 foot faults called against him and every one was incorrect, then that’s completely wrong and unfair.
“But for it to happen that many times, you would think there would have been a number of fairly obvious foot faults, because you don’t really see them called that much now. If it turns out that he wasn’t foot-faulting, if I was him, I’d be very, very disappointed.”
Wimbledon officials declined to comment on Karlovic’s claim.
Murray had beaten Karlovic in their three previous meetings but each had been close and the Croatian is particularly dangerous on grass.
The fourth seed got off to the worst possible start when he was broken from 40-0 in the first game but he hit straight back, and Karlovic was frustrated when Murray successfully challenged what appeared to be a second-serve ace to win the first set.
The second set was extremely tight, and Murray really did nothing wrong but found himself back at level-pegging when Karlovic powered a forehand return on his first set point and then clinched the rally with an easy volley.
Murray responded in the perfect manner, breaking serve in the opening game of the third set with a pinpoint lob – no mean feat over such a tall man.
He had returned well all match in the circumstances and broke serve again in the seventh game as he took the third set, but he was forced to settle for the lottery of a tie-break in the fourth and got a lucky break when Karlovic served a double fault at 4-4. The statistics showed what a hard task it was for Murray, with the Scot making only eight unforced errors and hitting 43 winners, while he restricted Karlovic to just17 aces.
It was later, however, that Centre Court was to experience a huge shock when Nadal found himself heading home early.
When 26-year-old Rosol lost the first set on a tie-break, it appeared he was on his way to becoming the latest in a long line of low-ranked players to be swept aside by one of the game’s leading names early in a grand slam tournament.
But he stumbled across the correct formula to come back and send the 11-time grand slam winner packing 6-7 (11/9) 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-4 – taking the decider under the Centre Court roof.
It is the earliest that Nadal has been knocked out of a grand slam since his second-round defeat to Gilles Muller at Wimbledon seven years ago.
“It is a miracle for me – I never expected this,” said a stunned Rosol afterwards.
“There are so many emotions. He is a superstar but I played unbelievable today.
“I hope I can play one more match like this.
“I am happy and congratulations to Rafa.
“He played a good match – but I was better.”