WIMBLEDON, England – Drawing inspiration from LeBron James and his new NBA title, Andy Murray is ready to win his first championship, too.
The fourth-seeded Murray, who has lost in three Grand Slam finals, advanced to the Wimbledon semifinals for the fourth straight year by beating No. 7 David Ferrer of Spain 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6), 6-4, 7-6 (4) Wednesday.
"He came very close to winning quite a lot of times," Murray, Britain's best tennis player and a big basketball fan, said of James. "I would say for me I guess it's a similar situation. I've been close a lot of times and not quite made it. You know, just have to keep putting myself in the position, and hopefully it will click."
Murray's three near-misses in major finals — twice at the Australian Open and once at the U.S. Open — have raised questions about whether he'll ever win the big one. But this year, with Rafael Nadal already out and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga waiting in Friday's semifinals, could be his time — at least to make the final. Winning it all, like James did last month with the Miami Heat after two losses in the NBA Finals, would be even better.
"There's a lot of people out there that didn't want him to win," Murray said. "There's a lot of people that said he would never win. There's a lot of people who said he never played his best in finals, in the fourth quarter of games he never steps up.
"Then you see how he played the whole of the finals, the whole of the playoffs. Sometimes it takes guys a bit longer than others."
Out on Centre Court, Murray finished off Ferrer with a royal flourish, smacking his 18th ace on match point and setting himself up with yet another chance to reach the final match at the grass-court Grand Slam.
"I've had a good run here the last few years, but, yeah, I'm not satisfied with that," Murray said. "I want to try and go further."
For much of Wednesday's match, Prince William and his wife Catherine — also known as Wills and Kate — watched from the Royal Box. The pair sat in the front row, applauding politely at times and clapping loudly at others.
"It's always going to make a difference when you have royalty in there," said Murray, then turning his attention to some former Wimbledon champions who also sat in the Royal Box. "For me, also playing in front of someone like (Andre) Agassi as well and Steffi Graf. Rod Laver was there, too. You know, it was an unbelievable privilege to play in front of those people."
Murray is trying to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. If Murray beats Tsonga, he will be the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938.
A win in the final will surely set "Murray Mania" off to epic proportions in a summer already full of British pride — starting with the Queen's Jubilee last month and running through the 2012 London Olympics.
"There's obviously pressure there. ... I think if you think too much about it, you know, and you read the newspapers and you watch the stuff on TV that's said about you, I think it would become far too much," Murray said. "But if you kind of shield yourself from it all and kind of just get into your own little bubble, only listen to the people that are around you, then it's something you can deal with."
Tim Henman, Britain's former best hope to end the country's Wimbledon drought, also made the Wimbledon semifinals four times. He never reached the final.
However, the pressure on Murray to reach Sunday's final may be even greater than ever. Murray lost to Andy Roddick in the semifinals three years ago, and then lost to Nadal in 2010 and 2011.
"Obviously now that I'm in (the semifinals) I'm not thinking, 'Great, I'm in the semifinals.' You want to try and go further," Murray said. "But I know how hard it is. Everyone kept telling me I had such a hard draw and how tough it was going to be to get through. You know, I managed to do that."
British bookmaker William Hill already has Murray as an odds-on 1-2 favorite to advance over Tsonga. But he's still not favored to win the title. That honor belongs to defending champion Novak Djokovic, who is at 4-6. He is followed by six-time champion Roger Federer at 7-2 and Murray at 9-2. Tsonga is the outsider at 10-1.
"I'm in a good position, that's for sure," Murray said. "Whether it's the best chance or not, I'm not sure. But I've been in this position a few times now and want to push on."
On Centre Court, Murray saved 10 of the 12 break points he faced, including two while trailing 4-3 in the final set.
He also saved a set point in the second-set tiebreaker. Ferrer led 6-5 after Murray sent a backhand return wide, but he evened the score moments later with a forehand winner. Ferrer then made mistakes on the next two points to give Murray the set.
"I think the key was in the second set, no, when I have 5-4 or I had one set point in the tiebreak," said Ferrer, who served for both the first and second sets but failed to close them out. "But Andy, in important moments he play really good. He played more aggressive than me, and he was better, no?"
Murray was better in the end, keeping his cool even when he was down.
"Subconsciously, I'm probably extremely stressed out right now," Murray said, "but I try not to feel it."