By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - The mayhem created by an Australian firecracker the previous evening was continued in brutal fashion by Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday as he annihilated defending Wimbledon champion Andy Murray.
With the dust still settling on 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios's third-round demolition of world No.1 Rafael Nadal, Dimitrov caused the second seismic shock on Center Court in the space of 24 hours by outclassing Murray 6-1 7-6(4) 6-2.
The Briton's shattering defeat means that two of the so-called Big Four in men's tennis have departed in quick succession from the grass court grand slam, both walloped by members of a brash new generation of big hitters with no fear and scant regard for reputations.
"Everyone's starting to get better," a downbeat Murray said. "The younger guys are now obviously becoming more mature and improving all the time."
It's one thing surrendering your crown, but to suffer such a remorseless beating on your own turf in front of Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, was especially galling.
Yet Murray said: "It's not the toughest loss of my career; that was losing in the final here in 2012 (against Roger Federer).
"I've had a good run here at Wimbledon over the past few years. Obviously it's disappointing for it to end like that."
Top seed Novak Djokovic, the man Murray beat a year ago to end Britain's 77-year wait for a men's Wimbledon champion, nearly went the same way before restoring order by digging himself out of a hole to beat dangerous Croatian Marin Cilic 6-1 3-6 6-7(4) 6-2 6-2 and set up a clash with Dimitrov.
Seven-times champion Federer was up against fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka in his quarter-final, while Canadian Milos Raonic looks to steal the thunder of Nadal's slayer Kyrgios.
With cracks beginning to show in the top echelons of the men's game, Canada's Eugenie Bouchard and Romania's Simona Halep heightened the sense of a changing of the guard in women's tennis as both reached the semi-finals.
Bouchard, 20, beat Germany's Angelique Kerber 6-3 6-4 while Romanian third seed Halep, 22, continued her fantastic year to overcome last year's runner-up Sabine Lisicki 6-4 6-0.
They will face-off on Thursday, when both will become the first women from their respective countries to play in a Wimbledon semi-final.
Of the last four standing in the women's draw, only 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has tasted grand slam glory.
Canada, the new force in North American tennis after a poor showing by the United States, could have a second semi-finalist if 23-year-old Raonic overcomes Kyrgios in their battle of the big servers.
A growing sense of disbelief settled over Center Court and outside on the sun-baked hill, where thousands had assembled to watch on the huge screen, as Murray's imperious charge towards a second consecutive title came off the rails.
Murray had looked impeccable on his way to the quarter-finals, not dropping a set and wasting little energy, but 25 minutes after starting against 23-year-old Dimitrov he was already a set down and in deep trouble.
Such was the quality of the 11th seed's tennis that Murray could have been excused for thinking it was Federer in his prime on the other side of the net.
Since winning the junior title at Wimbledon, Dimitrov has been saddled with comparisons to the Swiss maestro, given his smooth movement and elegant strokes, but until last year his real talent had not burst through.
With coach Roger Rasheed and girlfriend Maria Sharapova now in his corner, however, Dimitrov now looks ready to jump the queue of those waiting to get their hands on some major silverware - and few would bet against it happening here.
"Dimitrov is in a semi-final and he will say, why can't I beat Federer or Djokovic and win the title?" former champion Jimmy Connors, who was commentating for the BBC, said of the player who won the Queen's Club grass court title last month.
"He played spectacular tennis today. It won't get easier, so he has to lift his level again. I don't think he is just satisfied with being in the semi-final."
The crowd did their best to lift Murray after a torrid start, but he was clearly having a very bad day at the office.
He briefly threatened to turn the tide when he recovered from a break down in the second set to take it into a tie break, but Dimitrov rose to the challenge and played two breathtaking points from 4-4.
Murray netted a backhand on set point down and any repeat of his comeback from a two-set deficit at the same stage last year against Fernando Verdasco evaporated in the third set as the champion was clinically picked apart by Dimitrov.
"As soon as we started warming up I sensed his game was not at the highest level and I was feeling good," said the Bulgarian after ending Olympic champion Murray's 17-match winning streak at the home of lawn tennis.
"I held my ground through and the tie break was crucial."
While Dimitrov will contest his first grand slam semi-final, Bouchard will be appearing in her third this year, determined to go at least one better than she did at the Australian and French Opens.
Attacking relentlessly against one of the best defenders in the game, the new golden girl of tennis seized control from 3-3 in the first set and feasted on the Kerber serve, belting winners for fun in the sun.
"Yeah, I'm excited to be in the semis," she told reporters. "But never satisfied. I definitely want to go a step further."
(Editing by David Goodman)