IF Andy Murray can pull off the comeback of all comebacks tomorrow, his place in history is assured.
Winning Wimbledon elevated him from local hero to the status of national treasure, but if he can return to the Court Philippe Chatrier and beat Novak Djokovic and reach the French Open final, he will be regarded as some sort of miracle worker.
When the thunderstorms that had been threatening all afternoon finally moved in on Roland Garros, Murray was fighting for all he was worth. He had clawed his way back from a two set deficit to the world No.1 and he was standing at 3-3 in the fourth set. When Andreas Egli, one of the tournament supervisors, approached both players at 8.32pm to tell them that the rain was about to start and the match was suspended, Murray was doing the unthinkable – he was beating the all-but-unbeatable player of the moment.
Djokovic has only lost two matches this season, both in tournaments that do not really matter to a man who is busting a gut to be regarded as one of the all-time greats alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The grand slams are what matter to the Serb, and this one in Paris in particular. He only needs the French Open crown to complete his career Grand Slam and the way he had cruised through the first five rounds suggested he was right on course to fulfil that ambition. But he had not accounted for Murray’s sheer, cussed refusal to be beaten.
When Murray lost the Australian Open final to Djokovic back in January, he was furious with himself. He had allowed himself to drawn into the Serb’s web, to be distracted by his antics (Djokovic was doing his dying swan routine at the time), and as soon as his concentration was broken, the match ran away from him.
Today, he looked equally beaten in the second set as Djokovic moved ominously towards what he hopes will be his appointment with destiny in the final. And that was when Murray fought back. Whether it was the memory of that night in January that inspired him or whether it was just the thought that he had absolutely nothing to lose by going for broke, we will not know until after the match is finished. But whatever Murray drew on as he stood staring at two more break points early in the third set, he should bottle it and sell it – he will make a fortune.
Just as Djokovic strutted and swaggered around the back of the court, so Murray dug himself out of the hole, held serve and pumped himself up a little more with every rally he played. “Come on!” he yelled at himself. “Here we go”. And there he went.
Murray hurled himself around the court in pursuit of every ball, be it reachable or not. He launched winners from the most improbable of positions and situations and he showed Djokovic who was the boss on this court. Djokovic, who had been flexing his aching hip for most of the previous set, looked tense and fraught. This was not supposed to be happening and he could not bear it.
The more fragile Djokovic’s temper became, the more physical Murray made the rallies. He pushed and he pushed the Serb and as each point was taking 20 or more strokes to win, it was Murray who was winning them. At last he got his reward and broke the Djokovic serve and then served out the set to love as the crowd got behind their man. Murray was in with a chance.
Djokovic clearly needed to take drastic action - he needed to put the brakes on the juggernaut that was running him down. So he left the court for treatment to that dodgy hip and returned many minutes later (three minutes is the usual medical timeout allowance) in clean shorts, socks, shirt and shoes and to the boos and whistles of the crowd. The Parisians do not take kindly to gamesmanship.
Murray did not take too kindly to it either but learning his lesson from Australia, he did not let it distract him. He saved three more break points and immediately broke Djokovic for a 2-1 lead. Djokovic broke back. Murray cursed himself right royally. Djokovic held. Murray gave himself another dressing down. Then, after the Scot held one last time to make it 3-3 in that fourth set, Egli told everyone to go home just minutes before the rains came.
Today they will resume hostilities at 1pm, local time. Who will have had the better night’s sleep is anyone’s guess. Djokovic knows he was so close to claiming his ticket to the final, just one set away from facing Stan Wawrinka for the French Open title. And he also knows that for all his domination in those opening two sets, he was powerless to stop Murray from pushing him around for the best part of an hour until the weather halted proceedings.
Murray, though, knows that he still has an awful lot of work to do if he is beat his old rival. The end of the match could be wrapped up in 20 minutes if he does not come out all guns blazing today. Djokovic will be first to serve and, in theory, ought to be 4-3 up in a matter of minutes. The world No.3 has to attack from the start just to give himself a chance of taking the match to a fifth set. That should give him something to dream about.
But at least Murray has given himself a chance. After 90 minutes of play yesterday afternoon, no one would have given the Scot a hope of being in the position he find himself in now. And Murray has nothing to lose. Djokovic has a lifelong dream sitting on his racket strings – and that will weigh a ton if Murray can pick up where he left off tonight.