WIMBLEDON, England — Andy Murray didn't lose a set in the first four rounds here, playing up to his No. 2 seeding and the legacy of Fred Perry, the last British man to win the Wimbledon men's singles title. But as the light faded on Centre Court on Wednesday and a nation's sports fans held their collective breath, Murray found himself fighting to stay in the tournament.
Beset by a barrage of strong serves and aggressive play by unseeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, Murray lost the first two sets before a fretful crowd. Verdasco, a left-hander ranked 54th in the world, never let Murray establish a comfortable rhythm.
"It was a tough situation," Murray said. "The second set was a bad set of tennis for me. I was up, 3-1, and then made some bad mistakes, poor choices on the court."
Murray lost that set but retrenched in the third after resolving to be more patient. "I just managed to turn it 'round," he said, the understatement of the fortnight after a 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5 comeback launched him into the semifinals Friday.
He will face No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz of Poland, who became that country's first Grand Slam men's semifinalist by defeating compatriot Lukasz Kubot, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4. "Right now, I'm the most happy person in the world," said Janowicz, who cried and embraced Kubot at the net before exchanging shirts with him.
"This is really big thing for me. This is what I was waiting for. This is what I was dreaming about."
There was little drama in top-seeded Novak Djokovic's 7-6 (5), 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 7 Tomas Berdych, which sent the supple Serb to his 13th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal appearance. The other quarterfinal produced the tournament's daily upset as Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina earned his first Wimbledon semifinal berth and a matchup against Djokovic, whom he defeated in the bronze-medal match a year ago at the London Olympics.
Del Potro, the No. 8 seed here, had hyperextended his knee last week and fell spectacularly during the first game Wednesday against No. 4 David Ferrer of Spain. After treatment that included what he jokingly called "magic pills" — anti-inflammatory medication — Del Potro won two service breaks in the first set and pounded out an emotional 6-2, 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory over Ferrer, also in pain from a previous ankle injury.
"I just started the match and many things come to my mind, many bad things," Del Potro said. "But I try to be positive and play unbelievable tennis. I was lucky because I did everything good."
Merely "good" won't be sufficient against 2011 Wimbledon winner Djokovic, who was down two breaks and 3-0 in the second set Wednesday before he broke back in the fourth, sixth and final games to maintain his streak of not losing a set in this tournament.
"I will need to be 100% or 110% against him," Del Potro said. "He's the No. 1. He's a former champion here. …But if I'm OK, if I do everything good to be ready for my next match, I will be excited to play against him."
Djokovic, grunting softly on almost every point, fired 16 aces in defeating Berdych for the 14th time in 16 meetings. Berdych won their previous meeting on grass, in the 2010 Wimbledon semifinals.
Djokovic had plenty of good things to say about Del Potro.
"He struggled with injuries in the last few years, but every time he comes back, he comes back very strong because he just has this talent, and qualities as a player," Djokovic said. "He's very tall, so he uses that serve as a powerful weapon. And of course [his] forehand, that is his signature shot.
"It's semifinals, so everything is open, on the table, and we both want to win."
Murray said it took him time to adjust to Verdasco's serve and ability to dictate points with his forehand.
"The more times you're in those positions and the more times you can come back," Murray said, "you understand the way you need to think and the way you need to sort of negotiate your way through the last few sets. I did a good job with that.
"Sometimes it can be easy to get back to two sets all. The fifth set, the final set, often the guy who won the first two comes back and wins that one. It's normally the toughest set of the three to win.
"I was expecting it to be tough and hung in well."