Wimbledon: Forehand of history propels Andy Murray into the final
THAT’s 1938 taken care of. Now for 1936.
SCORE: SETS MURRAY 3 - 1 TSONGA
7-5, 3-6, 6-4. 6-3.
By defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 yesterday, Andy Murray erased the former year from the record books. That date is no longer the last time a Briton reached the men’s singles final at Wimbledon.
By beating Roger Federer in the final tomorrow, the Scot can do the same to 1936, which for the time being still stands as the last time a British man won a Grand Slam. Fred Perry did it that year both here and a little later at the US Open; Bunny Austin was the man who came second – to Don Budge – at the All England Club in 1938.
It’s a bad sign when a sport can cherish a certain date because it was the last time when one of their men lost a Wimbledon final, but that is indicative of the state in which British tennis has found itself in for a long, long time. On 11 separate occasions between Austin and yesterday, a British man had reached a Wimbledon semi-final then promptly lost, so you can understand why going one step further, even if it was only to be thumped in the next match, had come to be seen as a cause for celebration.
Mike Sangster was the first to fall at the penultimate hurdle, back in 1961, then Roger Taylor did it three times between 1967 and 1973. Tim Henman agonised his way to four semi-final defeats here, the last having been in 2002, and Murray himself, of course, had lost in the last three years.
Andy Roddick beat him in 2009, Rafael Nadal in the following two years. But Roddick is a faded power now, and Nadal, the second seed, lost in that crazy late-night second-round match against Lukas Rosol.
With the Spaniard gone, Murray was suddenly seeded to reach the final. The campaign was no longer about treading water, about proving himself the best of the rest and accepting that there was no disgrace in losing to one of the greatest talents to play the game. It was about being the overdog in round after round; about asserting himself against more lowly-ranked players; about ruthlessly putting them in their places.
Of course, when we talk about more lowly-ranked players, they are no more than a handful of places below Murray, and still world-class talents in their own right. In the fourth round there was Marin Cilic, the No 16 seed. In the quarter-finals there was David Ferrer, the world No 5, and a man who has had the beating of Murray in the recent past.
And yesterday there was Tsonga. Seeded fifth this year, and, at 27, two years older than his British opponent, Tsonga had beaten Murray only once in their six meetings before this one, but that was one of the biggest upsets of the Scot’s career: in the first round of the Australian Open four years ago, when the Frenchman was unseeded.
So Murray knows well how talented Tsonga is, and how unpredictable he can be. Indeed, the Frenchman proved that unpredictability in the opening two sets, by playing far more tamely than anyone had a right to expect.
The strength of Murray’s service had something to do with that, but Tsonga himself was largely responsible for his own sub-standard start. He is a naturally attacking player, an exuberant, extroverted character, but here he was cowed into something close to timidity.
It did not help the Frenchman that he was broken on his first service game to go 2-0 behind, but that advantage certainly did encourage Murray to try to ram home his advantage. The home favourite had to save two break points in the fifth game before taking a 4-1 lead, but once he had done that the rest of the first set was a formality.
The second followed a similar pattern, only this time the breakthrough was just a little longer in coming. Serving at 2-2, Tsonga was soon in trouble thanks to a double fault and, although he saved two break points, an unforced error on the third conceded the game. Again, from that point on for Murray, it was just a matter of staying steadily on track and doing nothing silly. His serve was still superior, his returns were forcing Tsonga to battle for most points, and when he took that second set too, the match looked to be in his pocket.
But, like those balls which cost him a couple of points in his third-round clash with Marcos Baghdatis, it wriggled free in the third set as Tsonga blasted back. The Frenchman took a very short break between sets to have a strain attended to by a trainer, but that brief escape from the Centre Court cauldron helped him cool down and play far more assertively.
At the same time, Murray allowed his concentration to lapse, and this time it was his turn to go an early break down. It could have been worse, as he had to salvage a break point at 0-3, but then swiftly it could all have changed around again, as Tsonga had to save three break points before stretching his lead to 4-1.
That is the thing that makes Tsonga so vulnerable, and prevents him from approaching true greatness as a competitor. Built like a brick outhouse, he has an intimidating effect on opponents simply by walking on to court. The fact that he continues to look like the young Muhammad Ali has to help too.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 25 mph
Wind direction: East
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east