Mike Sangster once, Roger Taylor three times, Tim Henman four, Andy Murray three. Great Britain’s 11-match SW19 semi-final horror sequence of defeats is finally over as Murray became the first home player to reach a Wimbledon men’s singles final since 1938, with a nerve-jangling four sets win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. After 74 hurtful years, nothing was ever going to be simple and the final realisation that history had at last been put to bed came in anti-climatic fashion.
With Tsonga serving at 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 4-5, 15-40, Murray’s forehand return winner looked to be good but was called out. The Scot painfully waited at the net for HawkEye to confirm his final place against Roger Federer on Sunday, before embracing his French opponent and reaching for the sky in an emotionally-charged celebration. Britain could breathe again. “I knew it was in when it left my racket, and then I thought that he challenged it,” said Murray when talking about the match point drama.
“Obviously it was close, but then the umpire said to me that the ball had been called out and that he hadn't overruled it. So then I challenged, and that was it. I knew it was in so it wasn't really an issue. Jo thought it was wide and I thought it was in! When I had confirmation I was relieved.”
After defeats to Andy Roddick (2009) and Rafael Nadal in each of the last two years, a tearful Murray knew all too well the magnitude of victory at last. “I think like subconsciously at the end of the match it was obviously very emotional,” he admitted. “I haven't really been like that before in a semi-final match, so obviously it meant something to me and it was very, very important. I think I need to make sure I enjoy myself and enjoy the win. You know, it's not every day you're through to the final of a Grand Slam, and also being at Wimbledon.
“In terms of focus, that was probably one of the hardest matches because when you do win a couple of sets comfortably and you're getting close to the final of a slam it's really hard sometimes just to stay in the moment and not get too far ahead of yourself and play each point. I did throw a game away a little bit at the beginning of the third set and it cost me a bit, but I wouldn't say it was the toughest match I've ever played.”
Even so, home fans were left biting their finger nails before Murray eventually clinched the fourth set. However it had looked plain sailing in the first two sets with the No.4 seed at the top of his game, and Tsonga sadly way below his best form.
But the Frenchman’s serve started to fire in the third set and he closed out after breaking Murray early. The British No.1 looked to be firmly in control as a stunning return helped him take a 3-1 fourth set lead. But Tsonga was finding the Murray serve, so powerful and bullet-proof in the opening two sets, easier to handle and immediately broke back.
You could cut the Centre Court tension with a knife as Tsonga fought back from 15-40 down at 4-4 and Murray produced an identical comeback from the same position in the very next game.
Finally Murray’s good returning paid its dividends as he fought to 0-30 and then 15-40 as Tsonga served for the match. When the winning moment finally arrived, the relief was all too palpable as a drained Murray slumped to his seat and looked to the heavens again. With the weight of expectation lifted off his shoulder, he will hope to do it all again on Sunday.