Let’s face it, this was bound to happen. It was almost inevitable that Andy Murray would take us from joy to despair and tantalise and torment us with the possibility of a return, before almost four hours had passed, for joy. The Wimbledon dream lives, and the Scot must have slept very well indeed after this incredible effort.
Murray was two sets ahead and seemingly sauntering through to the semi-finals when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga came thundering back into the match with a belligerent serve and a bazooka of a forehand.
The victory – by 7-6, 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1 – drew Murray level with Bjorn Borg’s 51 Wimbledon victories. The third and fourth sets were the first the No 2 seed had lost in these championships and they prompted the first glimpses of the classic Murray gestures of woe, including the trudgeful walk, the shake of the head and long-distance conversations with his box.
We also go him firing balls into the early evening sky, scudding his racquet into the grass and a highly theatrical motion with his hands and mouth which his French opponent might have read as: “Sacre bleu!”
This was perfectly understandable given the circumstances. Murray didn’t quite manage to replicate the great Swede’s icy calm but no wonder – it had been an almighty struggle. Digging deep, though, he’d produced the gutsiest of performances to win and now he’ll play Tomas Berdych tomorrow for a place in the final.
After the comedy and romance of the earlier rounds – players who came with tricks and temper tantrums, players who couldn’t believe their luck getting on to the Centre Court – this was where Wimbledon got real, got serious and got about the next three matches. Win these and you would win everything. Murray had jousted with Tsonga twice before at the All-England Club, in an quarter-final and a semi, and he went into this encounter in what some were calling the form of his life, the form of 2013 when he won the title, and with much the same tungsten toughness he had three years ago thanks to getting Ivan Lendl back. For Tsonga to disrupt the narrative he was going to have to serve like a demon and certainly the desire was there. “I would love to finally beat him and start thinking about something else,” quipped the man from Le Mans who always smiles.
They began with Centre Court only a quarter full, the crowd in need of a toilet break, or more likely a Pimm’s break, after Roger Federer’s incredible comeback. They didn’t miss much in the early games, just Murray inviting Tsonga to engage in some rallies and the latter preferring to ping it into the corners for a winner. Murray, though, seemed bothered with his eyes, kept rubbing them, and missed his first chance of a service-break. It was only delayed. In Tsonga’s next service game the Frenchman double-faulted twice in a row. There was also the first glimpse of the stunning Murray lobbing technique that’s almost become routine (almost).
But this match had been slow to get going – the lack of atmosphere didn’t help – and Murray in truth was over-cooking some shots, under-baking others. The dead-eyed play of previous games wasn’t quite there. Tsonga spied a chance and seized it when a Murray drop-shot had too much bounce. “Allez!” he shouted.Tsonga was serving well and his forehand was tres bon. Both men had chances and blew them. Murray’s first serve was all over the place, Tsonga missed sitters. Tsonga passed up three set points, so did Murray. Then an incredible pick-up from Murray had him pumping the air and roaring at the stands, now full again, as if to say: “Have you had you tea?” Then another wayward serve and finally the set was his, 12-10 after an arduous one hour and 16 minutes.
In the second set he got off to a flier. The serve seemed to be back in the groove and second game he broke Tsonga’s. Something of the joie de vivre seemed to go out of the Frenchman and he was quickly down 0-5. The match was following the pattern of Murray’s previous one against Nick Kyrgios where the opponent trades blows with Murray but can’t break him, then in his disillusionment, the next set runs away, this one taking just 26 minutes to wrap up.
Tsonga looked beaten but Murray let him back into the contest, conceding an early break in the third set. His fabled lob was hardly featuring; the drop-shot wasn’t as effective as before. He combined a drop that was too bouncy and a lob that didn’t clear Tsonga to give his opponent set-point. He saved that one, and another, but Tsonga was serving thunderously again and the set would be his.
In the fourth there were few rallies and it seemed like this one might come down to who served best. Tsonga was booming them in at 137mph. But Murray got the first break to lead 4-2 only to be broken straight back. Murray had chances to regain the advantage in what turned out to be the best game of the match but couldn’t take them. And then Tsonga broke Murray, threading a great backhand down the line, serving out to force the fifth set.
From somewhere Murray summoned a superhuman effort to roar into what proved to be an unassailable lead. He finished with an ace and then an embrace with his foe.