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Murray thrills raucous indoor crowd

6/30/2009 - Tennis

WIMBLEDON, England -- As darkness settled on the All England Club, the grounds crews watered the outside courts, covered them with tarps and put them to bed.

The courts, oddly enough, issued a faint gleam. That was because Wimbledon organizers kindly left the night light on. For six days here, the state-of-the-art $131 million retractable roof over Centre Court did not come into play, but on the seventh day it did not rest.

When rain, seemingly fairly insignificant, visited in the afternoon, the roof was closed. And even when it stopped a little later, the translucent roof remained shut and the lights were eventually switched on. Centre Court became an even more intimate, though raucous venue. Thus, when Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka trudged into the fifth set of their fourth-round match, it was approaching 10 p.m., and already the longest day in Wimbledon history.

In the end, Murray prevailed 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. The match consumed 3 hours, 57 minutes and finally ended at 10:39 p.m.

"Wow," said BBC broadcaster John McEnroe, who is rarely at a loss for words.

Murray, too, was circumspect.

"Always, when you play indoors the atmosphere is great," he said in an on-court interview. "But when you have 15,000 people supporting you, it's pretty special."

Many prognosticators had prematurely penciled in Murray, the No. 3 seed, for the final, opposite Roger Federer. Well, it almost didn't happen. Wawrinka played a spirited match, forcing Murray to dig deep.

The All England Club couldn't wait to roll out its new toy, but the 3,000-ton roof almost broke the 22-year-old Scot's back.

Murray was up two sets to one but, right about the time darkness arrived, so did Wawrinka, who rode that momentum into the final set. The crowd of approximately 15,000 -- pining for an end to the 72-year drought following Fred Perry's victory for Great Britain -- roared with every positive stroke for its favorite son.

Outside, several hundred yards away, the atmosphere was simultaneously electric and eerie, as several thousand fans sitting on Henman Hill followed the match on the big electronic screen. Just as the muffled cheers leaking out of Centre Court began to subside, the sound would begin anew in the open setting that resembled a large gathering warming their hands on the fire.

The match more than lived up to the unusual circumstances that surrounded it.

Murray won the first three games of the last set, but Wawrinka came right back and was serving at 3-4 when Murray forged three break points. He finally converted the last one with a huge forehand that Wawrinka couldn't touch. The crowd jumped up for yet another standing ovation.

A final forehand into the open court sent Murray to his knees and the crowd into hysterics. Murray will now play Juan Carlos Ferrero in a Wednesday quarterfinal match.

Previously, the latest-ending match at Wimbledon was a doubles affair in 1981 that was suspended at 9:35 p.m.

After the match, when asked if he'd go right home to bed and dream of winning his first Grand Slam, Murray shook his head.

"No," he said. "There'll be no dreaming. I'll have a pretty good sleep after that one."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.