Saturday 21 October 2017

Rampant Andy Murray books Wimbledon final place as he closes in on third Grand Slam title

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08: Andy Murray of Great Britain celebrates victory during the Men's Singles Semi Final match against Tomas Berdych of The Czech Republic on day eleven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 8, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08: Andy Murray of Great Britain celebrates victory during the Men's Singles Semi Final match against Tomas Berdych of The Czech Republic on day eleven of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 8, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Eleanor Crooks

Andy Murray will play Milos Raonic in his third Wimbledon final on Sunday after comprehensively defeating Tomas Berdych.

The Centre Court crowd are used to being put through the mill by the world number two at this stage of the tournament, but he was simply far too good for the 10th seed and eased to a 6-3 6-3 6-3 victory.

Murray has been the favourite for the title ever since Novak Djokovic's shock defeat by Sam Querrey in round three and for the first time in 11 grand slam finals he will not have to face either the Serbian or Roger Federer, who lost a five-set thriller to Raonic in the first semi-final.

Murray has now reached more slam finals than any other British player, surpassing the mark he jointly held with Fred Perry, and there is no doubt he will be expected to repeat his 2013 triumph, which finally ended Perry's 77-year reign as the last home winner of the men's singles title.

But Raonic has stepped up this season to lead the challenge of the younger generation and he had Murray in serious trouble in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January and in the final at Queen's Club last month before the Scot turned things around.

Raonic now has John McEnroe in his corner, and the performance in beating Federer from an unlikely position suggests he will present a daunting proposition on Sunday.

The good news for the Scot, who will play in his third consecutive slam final after losing to Djokovic in Melbourne and Paris, is that the pressure could scarcely be any greater than that which he has experienced at Wimbledon for the better part of a decade.

Murray said: "I'm obviously very happy. It was a good match today.

"The middle part of the second set was really key. He had a few chances to go up a break and then I broke in the following game, and that was big.

"To make a Wimbledon final is a good achievement and I've got one more to go on Sunday.

"The older you get, you don't know how many chances you'll have to play in grand slam finals so you want to make the most of your opportunities.

"I'm glad I managed to get through today."

Speaking on BBC Two, the Scot added: "I'll need to play a great match on Sunday if I want to win."

Asked about his Aegon Championships win over Raonic, which came just last month, Murray said: "It was a very tough match. Three sets, and I was down a set and a break but I managed to turn it around.

"He's playing probably the best grass-court tennis of his career."

For the second time in three days, Murray walked out to a near-deserted Centre Court as the fans took a breather.

Berdych was one of Murray's most tricky opponents earlier in his career but the Czech had had no success since 2013 against Britain's leading player, losing their last four encounters.

Their most recent slam meeting at the Australian Open last year was a bad-tempered affair best remembered for Kim Murray's foul-mouthed rant at Berdych, who had just begun working with Murray's former assistant coach and long-time friend Dani Vallverdu. Both players insisted ahead of this match that any bad blood was in the past.

Murray could not have made a better start, breaking for 2-0 when Berdych double-faulted, but the Czech seized on some short balls from his opponent to hit straight back.

Murray knew he would have to try to control the baseline to quell the power of his opponent and he did a better job of that in the eighth game, earning his reward with another break.

That left him serving for the set and he clinched it with an ace.

Berdych was looking to reach a grand slam final for the first time since here in 2010, when he blasted Federer and Djokovic off court only to lose to Rafael Nadal.

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, one of Murray's great supporters, emerged into the Royal Box for the second set and would no doubt have been happy with the scoreline.

Murray began to probe again in the fifth game of the second set but some big serving from Berdych saw him fight off two break points.

The Scot's frustration was clear as he sat down on his chair and he found himself embroiled in his own lengthy service game. He came through it having withstood two break points and then took his chance in the next game, piling the pressure on Berdych, who dumped an attempted drop shot into the net.

The Czech, who had lost his previous 17 matches against top-two opponents, looked bereft of ideas and Murray nailed a passing shot down the line to make it four games in a row and take the set.

Murray was in cruise control, but the same could have been said on Wednesday, when he led Jo-Wilfried Tsonga by two sets before eventually coming through in five.

The grip Murray had on the match gave the occasion an oddly low-key feel but Berdych could do nothing to generate jitters, missing with his forehand time and again.

Another one gave Murray the first break of the third set to lead 3-1 and, with less than two hours on the clock, he soon found himself serving for victory.

He clinched it with a forehand that Berdych could not get back over the net, raising a fist to his box and pointing two fingers at the sky.

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