Pulsating drama, sublime skill, crushing winners and gutsy determination – a sell-out crowd on Centre Court was treated to the whole lot as Andy Murray edged Spaniard David Ferrer in one of the best matches of the 2012 Wimbledon Championships to put himself one match away from his first ever Wimbledon Final.
In four sets amounting to three hours of graft on the court, Murray silenced a lot of doubters of his capability to compete for Grand Slam glory and showed the whole Tennis world what we already knew. He’s a quality player, and he surely has the best chance any Briton has had to lift the Grand Slam curse that has weighed on the shoulders of Men’s Tennis in the United Kingdom since Fred Perry’s Wimbledon triumph in 1936.
This Grand Slam drought has led to fans and critics putting huge pressure on any talented Brit that has played the sport since. Many people accused Tim Henman of being a bottler after several near misses at the All England Club, which was often unfair. He had a fine career, got to four semi-finals at Wimbledon and, if the classic British weather hadn’t rained on his parade in 2001, he would have surely beaten Goran Ivanisevic with the momentum he had in their epic Wimbledon encounter to set up a Final with Australian Pat Rafter. Then, who knows, he might have gone all the way.
Andy Murray has had to deal with similar expectation and similar claims of not being able to jump the Grand Slam final hurdle. He’s got to three major finals, won 22 singles titles and got to a further eight major semis – and he’s only 25. He’s had a sensational career already and he has won major titles or come close to Grand Slam glory on all three court surfaces – all whilst competing against three of the best players to ever grace the sport in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and current world number one Novak Djokovic.
Eight-time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi said that Murray would be a ‘multiple Grand Slam champion’ if he was in any other generation, and Agassi himself would have ‘won much less’. This shows just how highly regarded he is in the sport, and that he thoroughly deserves to have cemented his place in the top four of the Men’s singles rankings.
The biggest problem he has had in Grand Slams of the past is the task of defeating two of the top three players in the space of two days. On his day, he can defeat Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, and he has done so to win a series of ATP 500 and Masters events in his career so far. But the three times he has managed to knock out one of them, it has been an epic clash and he has failed to repeat that sort of form and intensity in the final a day or two later. He has yet to win a set in the three Grand Slam finals he has reached – clearly not a reflection on the ability that got him to that stage in the first place.
In his first major final at the US Open in 2008, he succumbed to the artistry of Roger Federer in the tournament’s finale, 6-2, 7-5, 6-2. But that was a far cry from Murray’s incredible four set battle with Rafael Nadal. This was the first time Murray defeated the Spaniard, and he did it in some style. The pace, energy and power he played with was sensational, and he thoroughly deserved the victory in a masterclass of hard court tennis. But it came at a cost. The match was a rain-affected, gruelling contest that spanned over two frustrating, hard-fought days. Roger Federer, on the other hand, defeated Novak Djokovic in one hit. He came in to the final with a day’s rest, feeling refreshed and this was reflected in his performance.
Since then, he has lost two Australian Open finals, but he has grown in stature, strength and maturity. He consistently gets to the latter stages of practically every major tournament going and continues to give the ‘big three’ a run for their money despite all the final disappointments and near misses he has suffered from so far. He is well and truly part of a dominant top four in the Men’s game, and this is reflected by the amount of times that the top four seeds live up to their billing and face each other in the Grand Slam semi-finals.
At this year’s Wimbledon championships, more people than ever are starting to believe that this could be Andy Murray’s time to shine. The belief in the talented Scotsman was significantly enhanced when French Open champion Nadal was stunned by relatively unknown Lukas Rosol in one of the biggest shocks in tennis history. Nadal is normally so reliable at dispatching the underdogs and avoiding any type of upset, but Rosol’s sensational five-set win opened up the draw and gave Murray a great chance of going the distance.
He’s not disappointed so far, and he has not had it easy. Banana skins in the shape of former world number three Nikolay Davydenko, big serving Croats Ivo Karlovic and Marin Cilic have been avoided and Murray managed to put his French Open quarter-final loss to Ferrer behind him in a fine display on Centre Court.
The big favourite though is reigning champion Novak Djokovic, who has looked imperious in his title defence so far. His win in last year’s tournament cemented his status as the man to beat, and impressive US Open and Australian Open victories followed. Should Murray get past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in his semi-final, and should Djokovic defeat six-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer on the other side of the draw, he will certainly be the underdog in the final.
But with the home crowd on his side, you just never know. Murray will have to be at the very top of his game to win his next two matches and win his maiden Grand Slam, but he certainly is capable of doing so. A semi-final against Tsonga will surely be less draining physically and mentally than a clash with Nadal – a superhuman athlete with a superhuman will to win on the big stage. Should he get to the final on Sunday, he may well be the most prepared and in the best shape he has ever been going in to a Grand Slam final. And a whole kingdom of united nations will be hoping that a different British name is finally etched above Fred Perry in the history books.