As if career-threatening back surgery were not enough, he finds himself living in a tennis era featuring a trio of the game’s most brilliant exponents. Too many times he has been denied. In the deciding showdown at Wimbledon 2016, he faced an unfamiliar opponent across the net in the form of Raonic in his Grand Slam final debut. And with Raonic came a new threat to Murray’s hopes – that on the one occasion in 11 Slam finals where his opponent was neither Federer nor Djokovic, he would still be thwarted. That at this, of all times, victory might simply have been someone else’s story. But Murray would not permit it. Instead he made himself master of his own destiny, patiently neutralising the thunderous Raonic ace machine and dismantling the Canadian’s attack to win in straight sets. When these two players last met just 21 days ago in the final at Queen’s, for a set-and-a-half Raonic put together tennis of a new serenity, returning more effectively and showing improved ability at the net. It wasn’t hard to devise a reason for the sudden depth in his tennis, as John McEnroe had joined his coaching team that week. Throughout his progress at Wimbledon 2016, Raonic built on those new dimensions. But maybe those two five-setters in the fourth round and semi-finals, against Goffin and Federer respectively, drained him too much; after all, he has never previously known the demands of producing his best tennis for seven Slam matches in a row. Murray was simply never headed. In the early skirmishes, he was the one carving out the chances; and soon he hustled Raonic into misjudgment, when the No. 6 seed came to the net once too often and dumped the ball in the net to give the break at 3-all. Throughout these Championships Raonic had averaged seven aces in every set, but in this opening set he was permitted just one, and it was not because he was playing poorly. Murray’s invention was defusing the threat. Utterly in control, he patted the ball away to safety on set point. His focus did not waver, which was just as well, as throughout the 2nd it became clear that Raonic was by no means done. But the Canadian was winning only half the points he attempted on serve and volley, and he had to fend off more Murray break points to stay in it. One point summed up Raonic’s day – he delivered a 147 mph missile into the Scot’s body, of the kind which worked so well his semi against Federer; but Murray handled it, and produced a fabulous backhand pass so that Raonic still lost the point. They got as far as the breaker, whereupon mistakes by the debutant put Murray in control, and he did not let the advantage slip. With Ivan Lendl back in his corner, Murray’s calm was rarely ruffled, and it was noticeable that at the changeovers he was reading prompt notes in his kitbag. He showed mild irritation with the overlong bathroom break which Raonic took at the end of the second set by commencing the 3rd set with a rare double fault. Loose play gave Raonic two chances to break for 3:2, but Murray would have none of it. Into the breaker, and the Scot produced his 15th backhand pass for a mini-break at the very first opportunity. After that, it was never in doubt. Murray took his second Wimbledon title, and his third Grand Slam crown, by forcing one more error from his vanquished opponent. And then he emitted a great roar at the skies. Watching him in that perfect moment was to recall the words of Yuri Vlasov, the 1960 Olympic super-heavyweight weightlifting champion. “At the peak of tremendous and victorious effort, while the blood is pounding in your head, all suddenly comes quiet within you,” wrote the Russian. “Everything seems clearer and whiter than ever before, as if great spotlights had been turned on. At that moment, you have the conviction that you contain all the power in the world, that you are capable of everything, that you have wings. There is no more precise moment in life than this, the white moment, and you will work hard for years just to taste it again.” Murray’s work-rate is almost his most formidable weapon. And at Wimbledon 2016, he has at last tasted the white moment of victory again. Stats of the final
Murray, who lifted the 2013 trophy, was nearly perfect in his semi-final on Friday against No. 10 seed and 2010 finalist Berdych, advancing to the championship match with a convincing victory. With the win, Murray has now qualified for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals for the ninth successive year. Murray will compete in his 11th career Grand Slam championship final against Raonic. Murray leads Raonic 6-3 in their Head2Head rivalry and has won their past five meetings. Three of those victories have come this year: a five-set battle in the semi-finals of the Australian Open, dropping just two games in the quarter-finals of the Monte-Carlo, and a deciding-set win in last month’s grass-court final at the Aegon Championships. A double fault from Berdych gave Murray an immediate break to lead 2:0, but the Brit was unable to capitalise with his Czech opponent punching away a forehand volley winner to break back. Although Berdych was in control of most of the baseline rallies and fired significantly more winners than his opponent (8 to 4), he also hit far more unforced errors (13 to 1). Murray’s steady play wore down Berdych, allowing him to break again to lead 5:3 and comfortably serve out the set with an ace. Murray saved two break points in a lengthy five-deuce game at 2:3 in the 2nd set, then broke Berdych in the next game. The second seed won 15 of the last 18 points in the set, rifling a forehand winner to take a commanding two-sets lead. The 3rd set was also one-way traffic for Murray. He broke Berdych to lead 3:1 and denied the Czech player any break point chances of his own. Murray closed out the match on his first try to gain another chance at a Wimbledon title. He finished the day with 20 winners to just nine unforced errors. Murray is now 11-9 in Grand Slam semi-finals, while Berdych drops to 1-5. Sunday will mark the 11th career Grand Slam final for Murray.
The sixth seed came back to knock out the third seed and seven-time Wimbledon champion, who had opportunities to seize momentum and the match in the fourth set. “It’s definitely a great feeling,” Raonic said. The 25-year-old becomes the first Canadian man to make a Grand Slam championship final. He also breaks a five-match losing streak against Top 3 opponents and earns a bit of revenge against Federer, who swept Raonic 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in their 2014 Wimbledon semi-final. For a while on Friday, it looked like Raonic would add a third loss to his career Grand Slam semi-final record (also 2016 Australian Open). After a near-perfect start, Raonic fell behind two sets to one after Federer had worked his way back into their 12th Head2Head meeting. Raonic was unable to attack the net in light of Federer’s brilliance from the baseline and on his serve. Late in the 4th set, Raonic took advantage of some rare shaky serving from Federer. Federer served at 5:6, 40/0 and had held for 18 consecutive games, dating back to when Raonic broke at 1:2 in the first set. But Raonic hit a forehand winner to get to 40/15 and Federer donated two double faults to bring the game to deuce. On his third set point, Raonic struck a backhand pass to force a decider. He celebrated with a scream and a fist pump to his team. “I can’t believe I served a double fault twice. Unexplainable for me really,” Federer said. “Very sad about that and angry at myself because never should I allow him to get out of that set that easily.” Federer regrouped in the 5th set and held to love in the second game. But at 1:2, Federer slipped on the grass and briefly saw a trainer. At deuce, he hit another double fault and Raonic smacked a forehand winner for his third service break of the contest. Serving for the match, the 6’5” right-hander showed no nerves and held at love. “I kept plugging away… I just kept trying to do the right things for me,” Raonic said. The Canadian was under pressure the entire fourth set. He had to come back to hold in four of his six service games and save three break points. He couldn’t have asked for a better start to Friday’s first semi-final, though. Raonic controlled the opener with his serve and forehand, successfully avoiding rallies with Federer. The Canadian won eight of his 12 net points. He also benefited from a Federer double fault on the set’s lone break point and had a one-set lead after 35 minutes. Raonic kept up his attacking tennis in the 2nd set, but Federer squeaked out the tie-break after benefiting from a Raonic double fault at 3-all. The third set, however, was all Federer. He found his rhythm on his serve and kept Raonic behind the baseline. Federer landed 61 per cent of his first serves in the third set, up from 54 per cent in the first two sets. Raonic only saw seven net points in the third set after approaching 26 times in the first two sets with good success. In the fourth set, Raonic returned to his aggressive play when he needed it most and just in time to achieve a lifelong dream and reach his first Grand Slam final. Stats of the match
“He’s a big guy who serves well. When he’s dictating the points, he hits a big, big ball,” Murray said. “Ideally, I don’t want to have him dictating all of the points because then I’ll be doing a lot of running.” Murray looked like he’d waltz into his seventh Wimbledon semi-final and continue his perfect sets record this fortnight. The Scot grabbed a tight first set on his fourth opportunity and denied Tsonga three set point chances (6:4 & 7:6 in the tie-break). The Frenchman didn’t regroup in time for the 2nd, either, and Murray dashed to a two-set lead, pushing his Wimbledon set record to 14-0. Tsonga responded strongly in the third and fourth sets, though. He blasted winners from both sides and landed a high percentage of first serves. The 31-year-old hit 14 winners and 15 winners in the third and fourth sets, respectively, compared to three in the second set. He also won nearly 80 per cent of his first-serve points in the third and fourth sets, compared to just 57 per cent in the second set. Tsonga broke Murray at 2:1 to take the 3rd set. In the 4th set, Murray was serving at 4-all, 40/40 when Tsonga belted a run-around forehand winner and a backhand pass for the break (earlier the Scot led 4:2 ‘deuce’ on serve). The two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist held to 15 to even the match at two sets apiece, and the Centre Court crowd roar had been muted. “Jo played great,” Murray said. “He was serving well. He was returning very well. He was mixing the pace up, playing with a lot of variety, coming forward, hitting his forehand big. He came up with some great passing shots.” But Murray would not be denied in the 5th set. He stepped into the court more often and continued to encourage the British crowd. The second seed overcame a break point in the first game and minutes later was up 4:0. “To get that [first] hold and just be ahead again was big,” Murray said. “I was up 4-2 [in the fourth set], had lost four games in a row at that point. Pretty much all of them were tough, tough games to lose.” The 2013 Wimbledon champion sealed the five-set win with an ace and fist pump of relief. “I came back strong in the third and fourth, but I didn’t play well in the fifth,” Tsonga said. “Andy was a little better than me in the last set.”
“At the beginning, I was finding the right rhythm because [Pouille] is a completely different game style. After that, everything was fine. I was able to dictate the game and play what I wanted,” said Berdych. “It’s great to be in the semi-finals again, but there’s still a lot left to play. That’s my main focus right now.” Murray leads their Head2Head rivalry 8-6 and has won their past four matches, including a Mutua Madrid Open quarter-final victory in May. Berdych, who is now 130-51 lifetime at the four Grand Slam championships, is only the third Czech to reach multiple Wimbledon semi-finals after Jan Kodes (1972-1973) and Ivan Lendl (1983-84, 1986-90). The third set was one-way traffic for Berdych, with the tenth seed breaking twice as he went on a five-game run. He held his serve to love at 5:2 to reach his second career semi-final at Wimbledon. Berdych finished the day with 35 winners to 24 unforced errors and only dropped seven points when he got his first serve in. Pouille finished with more unforced errors than winners (34 to 23) and hit eight double faults throughout the match.
“Today was epic. Probably going to look back at this as being a great, great match that I played in my career, on Centre Court here at Wimbledon… This is huge for me, my season, my career. I’m very, very happy,” Federer said. “To win a match like this, to test the body, to be out there again, fighting, being in a physical battle and winning, it is an unbelievable feeling.” The comeback win marks the 10th time Federer has overcome a 0-2 sets deficit in his career. His quarter-final contest looked severely in doubt. Cilic was dictating nearly everything during the first two sets. The 6’6” right-hander was landing booming first serves and seizing play with powerful groundstrokes. Cilic won 87 per cent of his first-serve points and hit 12 aces. The 34-year-old Swiss largely had to play defensive tennis and struggled to get into the biggest points. Federer was 0-3 on break points during the first two sets. “I remember just being in trouble the whole time,” Federer said. But serving at 0/40, 3-all in the 3rd, Federer somehow reeled off five straight points to hear the roar of the Centre Court crowd, which had been waiting for moments to scream. During the next game, Cilic double faulted on break point and Federer had his first break. A game later, he had clinched the third set. “That switched the momentum,” Cilic said. In the 4th set, Federer seemed to be moving better, serving and volleying and forcing the issue against Cilic. But the Croat regrouped and hung with the Swiss star. Cilic even earned three match points but failed to convert any of them. On two of the match points, he saw a Federer second serve but couldn’t put either ball in play. “If we would go back to play again, I would try to be more aggressive on the chances when I had them in the fourth. Maybe there was a slight hesitation [during] some of them,” Cilic said. The two played an enthralling tie-break that saw Federer erase one of those match points and witnessed Cilic save four set points. But the seven-time champion evened the contest on his serve after 20 points. In the 5th set, Federer broke Cilic at 4:3 and served out the set and the match, ending the memorable contest with two of his seven aces. At 34 years and 336 days, Federer becomes the oldest man in the Open Era to reach the Wimbledon semi-finals since Ken Rosewall (39 years, 246 days) finished as runner-up to Jimmy Connors in 1974.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction, the best match I played all the way through. Other than a span of three games, everything was quite good,” said Raonic. “Two wins is quite far away. I’m not even in that stratosphere right now. I’m just focused on what I need to do for the semi-final.” With Querrey serving at 4:5 in the 1st set, Raonic rallied from 0/30 to earn a set point and converted on a forehand error from the American. The 2nd set was nearly identical, with Raonic earning his first break point chance at 6:5 and converting on his first opportunity with a forehand into the net from Querrey. The American weathered a mini match point at 3:4 in the 3rd set and earned his first break chance of the match off a double fault from Raonic at 5-all, 30/30. He converted with a backhand volley winner and fired an ace on his first set point to keep himself in the contest. Raonic saved a break point in the opening game of the 4th set and resumed his flawless serving, dropping just three points on serve the rest of the match. A double fault from Querrey at 4:5 gave the Canadian his first match point and he converted on it with a strong forehand to advance to his second Wimbledon semi-final. The Canadian finished the day with 58 winners to just 16 unforced errors and dropped only nine points when he got his first serve in play. He also enjoyed immense success moving forward, winning on 35 out of 47 trips to the net. The win today matches Raonic’s best career Grand Slam result when he reached the semi-finals at the grass-court major in 2014. He also evened his Head2Head rivalry with Querrey to 2-2. Despite the loss, Querrey achieved the best Grand Slam result of his career in reaching the quarter-finals. The American caused the upset of the year by shocking top seed Djokovic in the third round, snapping his 31-match winning streak in majors and halting his bid to win the calendar year Grand Slam.