ANDY MURRAY knew that the Aegon Championships semi-final would be a huge step for him in his comeback from a back injury – taking on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the world No.7, having played just three matches in the last month would be a challenge all right.
But there is something about Scotland’s finest and the grass courts of south-west London: no matter how well or poorly he is playing, no matter how well or poorly he feels, he knows how to pull a win out of the bag when he needs to. And he did just that yesterday evening to beat Tsonga 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Losing would not have been the end of the world but for a man desperate for match play before he goes to Wimbledon, Murray wanted to get to the final. He was far from his best for much of the first two sets but then, just when he appeared to be on his way back to the practise courts, he turned the match on his head.
Tsonga had been doing everything that bit better than the Scot all afternoon while Murray’s first serve and his forehand had been missing the mark with monotonous regularity. As he faced two break points midway through the second set, the omens did not look promising. But, gritting his teeth, he clung on to his serve for dear life and then, as Tsonga was still pondering his missed opportunities, Murray pounced. He broke the Frenchman, much to the surprise and delight of the crowd, and then as he relaxed and began to play a little better, Tsonga started to fall apart at the seams.
“I turned it around well,” Murray said. “He had some chances at the start of the second set but I hung on and once I got the break, I started to play a lot better.
“In most of the matches this week, there have been patches where I have played a high level and then there have been parts where I played some sloppy games. But I know I’m playing well, I’m hitting the ball well it’s just that sometimes I’m making bad choices, poor mistakes.
“But that will come with more matches so this week has been very productive for me. It was very important to get some matches in this week and if I can get some good practise in next week, I think I should be in a good place going into Wimbledon.”
Murray’s last test of the week comes in the shape of Marin Cilic in today’s final. The Croat is the forgotten champion, his win last year being overshadowed by David Nalbandian’s temper tantrum in the final. But the world No.12 is an awkward foe and yesterday he put an end to Lleyton Hewitt’s run 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
That there was any tennis at all yesterday was remarkable and it was a taxing day for all concerned. Play was due to start at 1:15pm but the rain put paid to that. Hewitt and Cilic only managed to get through their warm-up before the court coverers shooed them away again and for the next two hours, nothing happened as the clouds dripped over London. There was a brief respite in the middle of the afternoon, just long enough to get 14 minutes of play in and for Cilic and Hewitt to get through a couple of games but then it rained again.
When, at last, the skies cleared, the schedule was reorganised: Hewitt and Cilic had been bumped down to Court One and Murray and Tsonga were the main attraction on Centre Court. The only hitch was that no one had warned the world No.2 and his rival that they would be on as soon as it stopped raining. As they were expecting Hewitt to be out there battling for a good couple of hours or more, they were unprepared and had to be given time to get ready. So, after a frustrating day of dismal weather and depressing delays, the crowd were treated to the sight of a sunbathed court and blue skies but with not a player to be seen for the best part of an hour.
Murray, meanwhile, had spent the day happily playing table football with Tsonga – “I beat him comfortably,” Murray said, “very comfortably” – and generally relaxing as best he could in the players’ lounge. He was able to relax even more last night: he had passed his biggest test of the week and was now through to his third Queen’s Club final. It was not a bad result with Wimbledon just around the corner.