Murray eyes Wimbledon glory
Andy Murray will go into his seventh Wimbledon convinced he is closer than ever to the world's top three.
Three times in succession the British number one has reached the last four at the All England Club, once losing to Andy Roddick and then twice to Rafael Nadal.
Last year was the first time he had won a set against the Spaniard at the tournament, although he faded badly after playing a brilliant opener, his hopes seeming to disappear with an over-hit backhand early in the second set.
In his post-match press conference, Murray sat in front of the assembled journalists with his pain laid bare, the agony of coming so close once again only to fall short.
In the last six grand slams, the 25-year-old has been beaten by either Nadal or Novak Djokovic five times, four times in the semi-finals and once in the final.
That came at the Australian Open last year, where the one-sided defeat by Djokovic hit Murray so hard that, doubting himself and everything he was doing, he did not win a match for more than two months.
The one time the Scot did not reach the last four was last week at the French Open, where he was beaten in the quarter-finals by David Ferrer.
That prompted John McEnroe to speculate the gap between Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and Murray was getting bigger, not smaller.
Murray is happy to admit clay is a surface on which he finds it tough to challenge for major honours, but he is confident it will be different on grass, and his optimism stems largely from his form on the hard courts earlier this season.
The Scot played one of the best matches of his career in an epic semi-final against Djokovic in Australia and, although he lost a close fifth set, he came away feeling it had been a big step forward.
Murray said: "I think on clay that is the surface I have probably been further away than the other surfaces. But I won against Djokovic in Dubai after the Australian Open and played some good tennis on the hard courts in the States.
"To me the slams are what I am going to be judged on and that was the closest I had come, compared with how I had played against Djokovic in the final in Australia the previous year.
"It was much, much closer so I feel like I am playing better tennis than I was a year ago."
While Britain engages in its yearly obsession of 'can Murray win Wimbledon?' - a close relation of the even more fevered 'can Tim Henman win Wimbledon?' - the man himself maintains a quiet belief that he can indeed become the first British man in 76 years to lift the famous golden trophy.
"I need to believe it is going to happen," Murray said. "There is not much point in playing if I don't think I could win Wimbledon or any of the grand slams or be competitive. I wouldn't play, so that hasn't changed."
Casual observers may wonder why it should be different this time. Djokovic and Nadal are stronger than ever, Federer's powers are waning but still significant, especially at his beloved Wimbledon.
And the chasing pack are starting to make an impression. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could, should, have beaten Djokovic at the French Open, Tomas Berdych is a consistent threat, Juan Martin Del Potro is back to something like his best, Milos Raonic is the coming man.
Murray has certainly made improvements since linking up with coach Ivan Lendl at the end of last year, particularly on his forehand, which he is hitting with more venom and now looks a weapon to rival his envied backhand.
Having Lendl by his side must also be a positive, a man who, like Murray, played in one of the toughest eras in tennis but survived losing his first four grand slam finals to go on to win eight.
There are still weaknesses, though. Murray's first serve is still not consistent enough and his second is vulnerable, while there are physical concerns over his suspect back.
Murray came in for flak for that, too, in Paris, with Virginia Wade calling him a drama queen and McEnroe saying he must forget about it and not show his pain to his opponents.
The main stick with which Murray's critics beat him is his demeanour on court, the 25-year-old's tendency to rage at himself and others when things are not going well that many believe envelops him in negative energy he cannot afford.
Those margins, the argument goes, can be the difference between winning and losing matches and titles in this most demanding era.
"It is everybody else that judges it, not me," said Murray. "I could say nothing on the court, lose the match, come off and I would be told I was flat on the court.
"Or I could have the most positive match and lose the match and nobody would talk about it, so to me all that is important is winning the matches.
"I speak with the guys that I work with and do all the right things in practice and in the gym and work hard and see where that gets me.
"Whether I am saying anything on the court, getting pumped up or whatever, it is kind of irrelevant unless I am winning matches."
Seven matches, seventh Wimbledon, could it be seventh heaven?