LONDON (Reuters) - Andy Murray sent expectations of a first Wimbledon title soaring through the Center Court roof on Friday as he roared into the last 16 without a blemish but two giant-slayers fell to earth after bitter reality checks.
On a soggy day at the All England club in which the Center Court roof earned its corn, a steely-eyed Murray outclassed Spaniard Tommy Robredo 6-2 6-4 7-5 to stay on course to end Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s singles champion.
The world number two, aiming for a first Wimbledon title to go with the breakthrough U.S. Open crown he won last year, sent a clear signal to anyone blocking his path.
In his last nine slams Murray has won one, reached the final of three more, made the semis in four others and suffered just one quarter-final defeat.
It is the consistency of a truly great player.
Others, such as Ukraine’s 116th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky and 131st-ranked Michelle Larcher de Brito, can play truly great tennis - just not all that often.
Two days after producing a spellbinding performance to eclipse holder and seven-times Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, Stakhovsky returned to the ranks of the journeymen when losing his third round match against wily Austrian Jurgen Melzer.
With a few hundred watching in the Court Three drizzle, rather than the thousands he had on the edge of their seats on the weirdest of Wednesdays, Stakhovsky proved to be a flash in the pan as his net-rushing game misfired in a four-set defeat.
Portugal’s Larcher de Brito, who sent former champion Maria Sharapova packing on the same day as Stakhovsky’s exploits, went down 7-5 6-2 to Italy’s 104th-ranked Karin Knapp.
Dreadlocked German Dustin Brown, who dazzled in a second-round win over former champion Lleyton Hewitt on Wednesday, also came to earth with a thud after his hopes of reaching the last 16 ended in a dismal defeat by Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
All three will each pocket 63,000 pounds ($95,600) for their cameo performances and the memories will be priceless.
“Nobody’s going to take it away from me,” the 27-year-old Stakhovsky told reporters.
“If someone would ask me, would you rather beat Roger and lose in next round, I would always take it.”
Those sentiments were echoed by entertaining Jamaican-born qualifier Brown who will head off back to the second-tier Challenger circuit next week.
“I‘m sad that I lost but if someone would have told me from the beginning, sign here, you get the third‑round prize money and points and you are going to win five matches, I would have taken the deal,” he said.
Murray has higher ambitions.
With the roof closed and a partisan 15,000 capacity crowd creating a claustrophobic atmosphere even a man of 32nd seed Robredo’s class and fighting spirit was overwhelmed as Murray unleashed a performance of destructive power and precision.
With Rafa Nadal, Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga already removed from the bottom half of the draw, Murray’s biggest problem might be keeping a lid on home expectations.
“I think there’s a lot more pressure on me now with them being out,” Murray, who faces either 20th seed Mikhail Youzhny or unseeded Serb Viktor Troicki after a weekend’s rest.
“I don’t read the papers. But there are papers in the locker room, so you see some of the headlines. It’s not that helpful.”
This year’s championships have equaled the worst showing by the top 10 men’s and women’s seeds in the professional era with only 10 - six men and four women - surviving to the third round.
Emerging as a dark horse from the rubble is Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz who made his Centre Court debut and crushed Nicolas Almagro to reach the last 16 of a major for the first time.
Fourth seed David Ferrer got back on schedule after wearing down fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut and will be back in third round action against Alexandr Dolgopolov on Saturday.
Grigor Dimitrov will have to wait a little longer for his predicted grand slam breakthrough after the 22-year-old lost to Slovenian Grega Zemlja in a curious second round match that was held over from Thursday because of rain.
Bulgarian Dimitrov resumed trailing 8-9 in the fifth set, saved three more match points to go with the two he fended off the previous night but, despite the vocal encouragement of high-profile girlfriend Sharapova, lost 11-9 in the decider.
“At a few points I heard her Maria screaming behind my back which wasn’t very pleasant!” Zemlja, the 26-year-old son of a former ski jumper, told reporters.
On a good day for the home fans, hundreds of whom spent hours huddled under umbrellas on Henman Hill (aka Murray Mound) peering at the giant video screen, teenager Laura Robson made sure Murray does not have to shoulder all the burden - yet.
The 19-year-old left-hander took full advantage of a Centre Court appointment for her postponed second round match with Colombia’s Mariana Duque-Marino, winning 6-4 6-1.
“It’s a big win for me,” former junior champion Robson, who beat 10th seed Maria Kirilenko in the opening round, told reporters.
“Any match on Centre Court is big and it was a great atmosphere. Having the roof closed just made it louder.”
The volume will go up another notch or two if she wins again on Saturday against New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic.
Spain’s 19th seed Carla Suarez Navarro and Belgian number 20 seed Kirsten Flipkens reached the last 16 but the fall of the seeds continued as Germany’s Angelique Kerber, seeded seventh and a potential fourth round opponent for Robson, lost her delayed second round match against Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi.
($1 = 0.6593 British pounds)
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris