London 2012 Olympics: Magnificent Andy Murray seals gold medal showdown with Roger Federer

NOT many sportsmen get a second chance in life, but Andy Murray has earned his: tomorrow he will walk out onto Wimbledon’s Centre Court to face Roger Federer in the final. This time it is an Olympic gold medal that is at stake and not the famous old Wimbledon trophy, but for the sheer effort and emotion both men put into reaching tomorrow’s showdown, you would have thought they were playing for their lives.

NOT many sportsmen get a second chance in life, but Andy Murray has earned his: tomorrow he will walk out onto Wimbledon’s Centre Court to face Roger Federer in the final. This time it is an Olympic gold medal that is at stake and not the famous old Wimbledon trophy, but for the sheer effort and emotion both men put into reaching tomorrow’s showdown, you would have thought they were playing for their lives.

• Andy Murray will face Roger Federer for Olympic gold on Sunday

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• Murray is guaranteed a silver medal

Murray crushed Novak Djokovic 7-5, 7-5 in a two-hour display of concentrated aggression and power. For 120 minutes, his focus never wavered, his attention never deviated. He had a plan, he had a goal and nothing was going to stop him. Never before has he played a match of such concentrated intensity and never before has he broken Djokovic’s will. This was a truly stunning display from the Scot.

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When, finally, he got his reward, he could contain his emotions no longer. The tears welled up in his eyes as he performed his ritual: pointing to the heavens and thanking someone for something. But when, after a minute or two, the realisation hit him that he was an Olympic medallist – he will walk away from SW19 with either the gold or the silver – he leapt in the air in delight.

“This was one of the biggest wins of my career, and one of the most emotional. I’m so, so happy to win,” he said afterwards. “You don’t see me smiling that much normally, and I haven’t stopped smiling since I came off court.

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“I’ll be desperate to win on Sunday.”

Murray had stated at the outset that he needed to extend the rallies, to be patient and grind Djokovic down: the more shots he is made to play, the more chance there is that he can be forced into an error. That is easier said than done. The Serb’s defensive play is second to none and no matter where the ball is put, he finds it and returns it like a bullet.

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When Andre Agassi was growing up, his father built his own ball machine for little Andre to practise against. It was bigger, stronger and faster than any regular machine and it was the stuff of Agassi’s nightmares. He called it The Dragon. Playing Djokovic must be like facing The Dragon – the world No 2 is relentless, machine-like and utterly ruthless. Not only is his defence nigh-on impregnable, but he can turn it into attack in a heartbeat.

To beat Djokovic was going to take a monumental effort from Murray and the concentration was etched on his face. He could not afford to let a sniff of a chance slip away and, at the same time, he could not afford to make any mistake. Every time the merest hint of an opportunity arose and he failed to take it, even if he missed by the narrowest of margins, he smacked himself on the head and gave himself a dressing down while the crowd begged him for just one more shot, one more winner.

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When finally he made the breakthrough, breaking Djokovic to take the first set with another forehand – he had been leathering the shot all night – Murray let out a roar that could be heard above the Centre Court celebrations. His plan was working and he was inching closer to the final. For 55 minutes he had focused every ounce of his being on beating his old friend and his deadliest rival; he could allow himself a split second of release. A second but no more.

The second set followed the same pattern as the first – Murray fighting for all he was worth and running Djokovic ragged. Again, the Serb held on but under this constant pressure, he could stand it no more and serving to stay in the tournament, he cracked. He dropped his serve to love. Murray was in the final. Now he gets his second crack at Federer.

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Federer’s marathon semi-final against Juan Martin Del Potro set a new record for the longest Olympic tennis match and the longest three set men’s match played in the Open Era – four hours and 26 minutes – and left both men in tears. For Federer, they were tears of relief that he was, at last, going to win an Olympic singles medal; for Del Potro is was simply a shattering defeat. To have had the upper hand for most of the 3-6, 7-6, 19-17 encounter and then to lose it in the last handful of points was unbearable. To have won in such circumstances was, for Federer, unbelievable.

“The emotions I felt were as strong as winning a Grand Slam almost,” he said. “But of course you have to hopefully save some for Sunday so you can’t go overly crazy. But I was very, very touched at the end. I was drained, very tired and, at that moment, I think also very relieved; at the same time, very proud and happy. ”

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Meanwhile, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will contest today’s women’s final. American Williams continued her romp towards a first women’s singles gold medal with a 6-1, 6-2 thrashing of world No 1 Victoria Azarenka after Sharapova won an all-Russian clash against Maria Kirilenko 6-3, 6-3 to reach the final on her first Games

appearance.