Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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The first major test has been set and the first major test has been passed: Andy Murray is into his seventh Wimbledon semi-final after beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. But what a test it was.
Until Wednesday, Murray had been sailing through the draw without dropping a set. He played extremely well when he had to – but he did not have to very often. He was just that bit better than everyone put in front of him.
And then he ran full pelt into his friend and sparring partner and almost came a cropper. It took him six minutes shy of four hours to find a way to beat Tsonga, but beat him he did, 7-6(10), 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1, and now goes on to meet Tomas Berdych on Friday.
When he was asked what had gone wrong in those two sets in the middle of the match, Murray looked incredulous. Sure enough, he had looked safe and sound with a two-set lead but he knew he had to be on his guard no matter what.
“Tsonga’s a pretty good player; he’s not bad,” Murray said. “He’s one of the best grass court players in the world and he came up with some great shots, some unbelievable passing shots on the run at big moments, he started returning better. He mixed it up well.
"Credit to him for fighting his way back into the match because he played extremely well. That first set was a tough one to lose. Obviously I ran away with the second but he fought really hard right to the end and it was a great match.”
Tsonga was forced to pull out of the French Open in the third round when, in the first set of his match with Ernests Gulbis, he tweaked a thigh muscle. At the time, he was distraught but those with an ear close to the French players’ camps reckon that it might just have done him a bit of good.
To play in front the notoriously demanding Roland Garros crowd has proved too demanding for many a French player and even a man of Tsonga’s experience does feel the weight of national expectation when he plays at his home Grand Slam.
This year, though, he made his excuses and left early and so came to Wimbledon with a slight doubt over his fitness but without the mental weariness he so often feels at the end of a long French Open run. And, by the sound of him, he fancied the challenge against Murray.
“What's he's got and I don't have?” Tsonga said to the French reporters before the match. “First of all, he win more matches than me, for sure! I'm not sure he serves better than me. I'm not sure either that he hits his forehand harder than me. Backhand? Sure he's got a better backhand than me. It's more solid than mine. Andy moves also better than me. He's not quicker but he moves better. Which makes it even more difficult is that he's got a wonderful 'defensive flair'."
Certainly Tsonga looked in fine fettle in the first set as he clawed back Murray’s early lead in the first set and chased the world No.2 all the way to tie-break and beyond. Three set points dribbled off his racket strings, three more slipped through Murray’s hands until finally, at the fourth time of asking and at the end of a 76 minute set, Scotland’s finest put away a volley and he was a set to the good.
The Centre Court crowd, who love a good rollercoaster, nail-biter of a five setter but who are still predominantly local born and bred, heaved a sigh of relief. When Murray ran away with the second set in just 26 minutes they could actually relax – but they were not making allowances for M. Tsonga and his powers of recovery.
Recharged and raring to go, Tsonga took the fight to his off-court friend and on-court nemesis (he had only beaten Murray in two of 14 previous meetings) and started thumping his serves and clattering his forehand. Even his backhand, that unreliable backhand, was doing its job. And that backhand got progressively better and better as Tsonga set off like a whippet on wheels to take the third set and then stood firm and strong in the fourth to come back from a 4-2 deficit and break Murray twice in succession to force the match to a fifth set.
But that was when the champion in Murray took over. He came to SW19 with ambition and huge expectation – he was not planning to go out in the quarter-finals.
After he staved off a break point and secured the opening game of the deciding set, he turned to his team and announced “There is no way I am going to lose this match!” And he didn’t.
“I just tried to use all of my energy at the start of the fifth set to get myself up,” he said, “to try and get the crowd pumped up – it’s been a long day for them, some long matches – and thankfully got the early break and managed to hang on it.”
The test had been passed and Murray was still in business.