Five thoughts on Andy Murray’s victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, taking him through to a first Wimbledon final, to play Roger Federer on Sunday.
Andy Murray can make your eyes water. He can make you curl up in a ball on the grass. (And that’s just those watching on Henman Hill.) When Murray, Britain’s first male Wimbledon finalist for 74 years, plays Roger Federer on Sunday, he could do worse than repeat what he did to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. We’ve been hearing a lot about how Murray has been picking up some of his coach Ivan Lendl’s habits – but who expected the Scot to welt a Lendl-esque drill-shot, which smacked Tsonga right in the Slazengers. It was an accident, of course, to hit Tsonga right there, but you could still see the tactic of going for the drill-shot as evidence of Murray’s uncompromising approach. As Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times noted, “Murray almost made the balls pop out of someone else’s shorts”, a neat reference to the Briton’s third-round match against Marcos Baghdatis when he had problems with shallow pockets. For a minute or so after being Murray’d, Tsonga’s voice would have been no deeper than a Kylie Minogue chorus (the Australian was watching this from the Royal Box).
All Murray has to do now is defeat the greatest grass-court player in history. An opponent who is three sets away from a record-equalling seventh title on these lawns (which would be his 17th grand slam). Someone who, on their two previous meetings in grand slam finals, at the 2008 US Open and the 2010 Australian Open, skewered Murray in straight sets. Murray also lost his third grand slam final in straight sets, at the 2011 Australian Open against Novak Djokovic, which makes his record in major finals zero sets from nine. So Murray could not have a better voice in his ear than Lendl’s – his coach lost his first four slam finals, and went on to win eight majors. Murray is not going to win eight slams, but Lendl might just have the words and the presence to propel the Scot towards his first.
It’s when Tsonga is two sets to love down that he’s at his most dangerous on Centre Court. Tsonga overcame a two-set deficit to beat Federer in the quarter-finals of last summer’s Championships. As Murray took a two-set lead here, many watching in Centre Court, or on their sofa, would have been wondering: where’s the drama, the tension, the grass-court agonies? Murray was playing some accomplished tennis, and Tsonga plainly wasn’t. Then Tsonga left the court for some medical treatment for a back problem, and on the resumption Murray played some loose tennis. Suddenly Tsonga looked like a different player, someone capable of swinging, diving and rolling his way back into the match. It was as Tsonga served for the third set that he came under direct-fire from Murray’s racket, and some wag in the crowd called out “new balls, please”. But the world No 6 held himself together to take the match into a fourth set. There was plenty of drama and tension during that fourth set, even on the last point: Murray lashed the ball cross court, and hit the line, but still had to wait for Hawk-Eye’s verdict, as Tsonga stood chatting at the net, like two neighbours talking over a garden fence. No wonder, when the video screen confirmed he was in a Wimbledon final, there were tears in Murray’s eyes.
No longer can it be said that the last man to lose to a Briton in a Wimbledon semi-final died at the Battle of Stalingrad. That was Henner Henkel, who was beaten by Bunny Austin in 1938, and who was killed in battle four years later. So that’s Bunny ticked off; now on to Fred – you might have heard it mentioned that a British man hasn’t won Wimbledon since Fred Perry was the champion in 1936. Still, Murray isn’t playing for history. First of all, he wants to win for himself; this is an individual sport, after all. That’s why he hasn’t been looking at Fred Perry’s statue in the grounds or thinking about him during the tournament. If he ends Britain’s 76-year wait for a male grand slam singles champion, that would be a nice bonus, but that’s not what he’s playing for.
It will be interesting to see how much support Federer gets from the crowd on Sunday, even when playing against a Briton. Federer is a hugely popular figure here.