On Friday at Wimbledon, a man named Marray made history. That is not, as you might be perfectly entitled to think, a typo. On the day that Andy Murray ended Britain’s 74-year wait for a men’s singles finalist at The Championships, Jonathan Marray ended Britain’s 52-year wait for a men’s doubles finalist at SW19. You couldn’t really make it up.
“I'm just delighted to kind of be there and to get a chance to play on Centre Court and share it with Freddie,” Marray said. “We've been friends for a long time. To do this together, it's been great.”
The 31-year-old Liverpool-born Sheffield resident had been to the third round at Wimbledon on three previous occasions, had already notched up a personal best Grand Slam quarter-final earlier this week, before surviving James Cerretani and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in five sets to reach a first Grand Slam semi.
But standing in his and partner Frederik Nielsen’s way, the pair playing just their fourth tournament together over a six-year period, were the multi-Wimbledon champions and second seeds, Bob and Mike Bryan.
To the doubles player, the Bryans have the same aura as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal do in the singles discipline. To beat them requires something a little out of the ordinary.
“To actually beat them in our first semi-final at Wimbledon, you know, is a pretty big thing,” Marray said. “We're more than happy with it, how we played today.”
So it was with some surprise that viewers watched Marray and Nielsen, a wild card combination who only requested the All England Club for the spot after reaching the final of the Nottingham Challenger in early June, take a two-set lead on the world No.2s, 6-4, 7-6(5).
The Bryans, who had needed to play two matches on Thursday to reach their umpteenth Grand Slam doubles semi, one of them a five-set barnstormer against Arnaud Clement and Michael Llodra, snuck the third set, also on a tie-break, 7-4, putting Marray and Nielsen in danger of running out of steam at just the inopportune moment.
But the Anglo-Danish combination held their nerve in the rather lowlier surroundings of Court 12, not a stage the Brybros would be used to, staying ahead on serve, and forcing the set into another tie-break.
Marray and Nielsen accelerated into a 5-0 lead, only to see the Americans claw it back, not by virtue of any mistakes on their part, but simply because they are one of the best doubles pairings in the world.
“They clawed back the third set and then got a little bit of momentum at the start,” Marray said. “We held our serves in a few tight games in the fourth set, and I think they were starting to feel their way into the match a bit more.
“To go 5‑Love up, we were thinking, `C'mon, we can kind of hopefully close this out’. They played some really good tennis. We didn't really do a huge amount wrong.”
Poised at 5-5, there was a very real sense that should the match go to a fifth, it would be Bob and Mike smiling and celebrating, and not their opponents. But Nielsen picked that moment to fire a forehand return into the tramlines, earning the combination a match point. It was all they needed, Marray getting on the end of a volley, and scooping it up and over the twins, and into the court.
“I actually felt quite confident that we were going to finish it anyway, because at the end of the day it was 5‑all,” Nielsen said. “Had it been 5‑6 we would have been on serve. I had a suspicious feeling some way or the other we were going to steal it in four.”
It is a reward that one wouldn’t even think of for a player who has been performing consistently well in the early stages of tour events, but a Grand Slam final is something else.
“It means everything to me,” Marray said. “It can be a hard slog, as Freddie knows. We've played a lot of tournaments together over the years. You go to some not very nice places.
“But we do it because we love it. You know, at the end of the day, we do it to play tournaments like this. When we get a chance to play these, it's what we've dreamed of. It's all worthwhile in the end, I suppose.”
But Marray is not the only history-maker. By virtue of his achievements alongside his fellow Liverpool fan, Nielsen becomes the first Danish male to reach a Grand Slam final of any sort since his grandfather, Kurt Nielsen, competed in the men’s singles final on these very lawns in 1955.
“Obviously it's a huge thing for me,” Nielsen said. “I was raised in a tennis fanatic house ‑ especially with my granddad ‑ and Wimbledon was always the thing. It was Wimbledon and everything else.
“I've been here many times as a kid and was able to suck in all the atmosphere. My biggest dream in tennis was just to be able to play on Centre Court. I have to admit that over the years I was thinking whether or not it was actually gonna happen because, yeah, I don't get any younger.
“So to be able to get that chance in a Wimbledon final, yeah, it's too good to be true.”
We wish them well on Saturday when they face Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau, two-times runners-up at The Championships.
“It's why I play tennis, to win Wimbledon,” Marray said. “That's what everyone dreamed of when I was growing up anyway. For it to come true, yeah, it would be the pinnacle of my career definitely.”