At 6.43pm today, Andy Murray’s swinging forehand return on match point was called out. As Tsonga challenged, the Wimbledon Centre Court held its breath, then erupted as Hawkeye confirmed the ball dusted the white line.
Murray closed his eyes and raised his fingers to the heavens in silent celebration of an exultant and historic 6-3 6-4 3-6 7-5 Wimbledon semi-final win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
No British man had made the Wimbledon men’s final since Bunny Austin in 1938 but, as Murray accepted the congratulations from the French number one, the only appropriate response seemed to be ‘Bunny who?’
Austin came from a time when table manners were still fashionable, when trams were the preferred method of transport and ladies removed their hats after 6pm.Read more (524 words)
Shortly after 6pm today, it looked unlikely that anyone would be doffing their caps to the world number four as, leading by two sets to one and a break, he weakly squandered his serve to hand the momentum right back to Tsonga.
It was momentum that the Scot had worked hard to win, using his blistering return of serve to utterly dominate proceedings on Centre Court. The Lendl-inspired forehand came with added beef; the extra kick on the second serve was stupendously effective. The whole effect was mesmerising in its solidity.
Murray broke in just the second game, crashing topspin forehands crosscourt and nailing double-handers down the line for fun. It was stupendous stuff exemplifed by the first point of game three when Murray contemptuously swatted a forehand half-volley for a searing winner off a biting Tsonga approach.
The heady cocktail of solid serving and rasping groundshots continued into the second set, with Tsonga looking shellshocked and Murray like a man in pursuit of history.
The world number four’s passing shots left Tsonga flailing at the net and his magnificent neutralisation of the Frenchman’s service bombs brought its reward at 2-3. Murray was one set away from the Wimbledon final. A few courts and just one vowel distant, Johnny Marray was beating his fists as he became the first British man into the doubles final for 35 years.
Whether Murray could join him on the sport’s most celebrated stage depended largely now on whether he could hold his nerve in the critical third set.
To his fans’ dismay, the Scot embarked on a huge mental holiday, losing focus in what his former coach Brad Gilbert had described as the Dictate Game – the key game at the start of a new set.
Tsonga came roaring back, breaking serve and clinging on to take the set 6-3. Murray’s fortunes hung over a precipice as big and tall and wide as the White Cliffs that stare with such disdain across the Channel.
The Scot seized an early break in the fourth but the number five seed came back with some serious firepower of his own.
With the man from Le Mans serving at 3-4, Murray held a break point, but chose to lob a short ball when a clipped winner looked the better option. A back-pedalling Tsonga hounded down the ball and scorched a winner past a diving Murray. Tsonga levelled.
But the British number one wasn’t done yet. The match pummelled its way to 5-6 and the Scot regained some focus, driving deep and hard and wide, forcing errors from the racket of the Frenchman. Then, at 15-40, Murray clipped his forehand scud onto the line, Hawkeye ruled in his favour and the crowd were out of their seats and bellowing in an unbelieving ecstasy.
For Murray, 1938 will be an irrelevant statistic. Of more pertinence is 1936, the year when the fabled Fred Perry last lifted the trophy. To emulate him, the Scot will need to harness all the pent-up rage and frustration of 76 wasted years to rise to the occasion and eclipse the game’s greatest player on the sport’s most exalted stage.