Sunday 25 February 2018

Wimbledon: Murray beats Tsonga to end 74-year wait...

Paul Newman at Wimbledon

The words "not since Bunny Austin" can finally be erased from the lexicon of British tennis and tomorrow the phrase "not since Fred Perry" might also be consigned to history.

In beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3 6-4 3-6 7-5 here yesterday, Andy Murray became the first British man since Austin in 1938 to reach the Wimbledon singles final and now has the chance to become the first home champion in the men's event since Perry won the last of his three All England Club titles in 1936.

In his fourth Grand Slam final, Murray will face Roger Federer, the greatest player in history, who became the first man ever to reach eight Wimbledon finals by beating Novak Djokovic, the world No 1 and defending champion.

Despite losing in the semi-finals here for the last three years in succession, Murray always retained the belief that he could end the British tale of woe ever since Austin reached the final 74 years ago.

British men have reached the semi-finals on 12 subsequent occasions, but until yesterday they had always fallen at the penultimate hurdle.

If Murray is looking for historical signs, the last British player of either sex to win the singles title was Virginia Wade who triumphed in the Queen's Silver Jubilee year in 1977. Murray will now attempt to win the title in Diamond Jubilee year.

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After the first semi-final had been played under the roof because of rain, the weather had improved sufficiently for the cover to be retracted in time for the start of the second.

The temperature was a cool 17C, but there was little wind and later in the match there were spells of bright sunshine. After all the recent rain, the grass is still surprisingly lush and there were occasions when both men slipped on the greener parts of the court.

Murray, however, generally looked much more assured on the surface, while Tsonga often seemed uneasy on his feet. Much of that was down to the quality of Murray's ground strokes.

Tsonga, sticking to his game plan to go for his shots and attack the net, kept charging forward, but Murray loves to have a target. If he was not crunching shots past the Frenchman either cross-court or down the line he was forcing him into errors by chipping the ball into his feet.

Tsonga's serve is usually one of his biggest weapons, but in Murray he was facing a player whose returns are probably bettered only by Djokovic. If Tsonga did not get his first serve in, he was almost invariably in trouble.

Murray won a remarkable 18 out of 20 points on Tsonga's second serve in the opening two sets.

The Murray backhand -- particularly the two-hander struck with power -- has long been recognised as one of the best in the game, but on this occasion the Scot's forehand was also in magnificent shape.

There are times when Murray needs time before feeling confident enough to open his shoulders on his less reliable flank, but on this occasion he was smacking forehands low over the top of the net.

Murray was on his game from the start, hitting three wonderful winning shots to break Tsonga in the second game -- a scorching backhand cross-court winner, a wrong-footing forehand cross-court pass that saw the Frenchman take a tumble, and a fine backhand down the line.

It was only the fifth time in his 91 service games in the tournament to that point that the Frenchman had been broken.

The only time Murray got into any sort of trouble in the first set was when Tsonga forced his only break point in the fifth game.

Murray saved it with a crunching forehand to the corner and went on to hold serve with two successive aces. Four games later, he served out for the set in just 34 minutes.

Murray won the second set even more convincingly. The Scot broke in the fifth game thanks to some magnificent returns and never looked in trouble on his serve. At one stage the world No 4 won 17 points in a row on his serve and Tsonga won only two points against serve in the whole set. By the end of the first set Murray had made just four unforced errors in the match.

Tsonga had appeared to be moving with increasing difficulty and at the end of the second set he had treatment on his back.

The physiotherapist who tended to the Frenchman should seek a pay rise immediately.

Tsonga, suddenly moving much more freely, raced into a 3-0 lead, having broken Murray to love as the Scot played his worst game of the match by far.

Whether or not it was nerves as the finish line approached, Murray tightened up and for a moment he might have recalled that Tsonga came back from two sets down to beat Federer in the quarter-finals here 12 months ago.

Tsonga, having saved three beak points in the fifth game, served out for the set, surviving a nasty moment at the net when Murray, taking a leaf out of his coach Ivan Lendl's book, drove a ball straight at the Frenchman which hit him in the groin.

Tsonga was briefly doubled up in pain and probably did not appreciate the humour when a spectator called for "new balls, please".

Murray, nevertheless, had regrouped and the Scot broke to lead 3-1 in the fourth set, only for Tsonga to respond in kind with some mighty returns. Both men were now playing some exceptional tennis. Tsonga saved two break points at 3-4 and Murray had to do the same in the following game.

At 5-6, however, Tsonga finally crumbled. After a superb semi-final, the contest ended in great drama as Murray hammered a sensational forehand cross-court return on his first match point.

Murray, apparently thinking it was a winner, dropped his racket to the floor, but the shot was called out.

The Scot challenged and as the two men waited for the video replay verdict they exchanged warm words at the net.

There was a huge smile on the immensely popular Tsonga's face before Hawk-Eye confirmed that the ball had indeed clipped the line and that Murray's moment of destiny had arrived.

"I knew it was in, I thought he challenged, they said it was called out so I challenged," the Scot revealed afterwards.

"I am so happy to be through. There's a bit of relief, excitement. It's tough to explain, it was such a close match.

"Both of us had chances, I was up a break, he came back, then he had break points at 4-4 in the fourth and I managed to hang tough enough.

"I had started the match really well, served well, but he came back, started serving better and hit some great volleys. I did well to hang in because he started to play really well.

On having carried the hopes of a nation with him throughout the tournament, Murray also conceded to having felt the strain on court.

"It's just difficult, there's a lot of pressure on the court, a lot of stress but you need to think about the next shot and not what has happened in the past," he said.

"It's been a great tournament so far and hopefully I can go one better. It's just a big relief.

"It was a very emotional end to the match -- one of the biggest matches of my life.

"I have played Roger in finals before and need to learn from them. He's playing great tennis and I'm very excited." (© Independent News Service)

Wimbledon, Men's final,

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