For the first time in 74 years, there will be a British man in the singles final of Wimbledon, as Andy Murray defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.
It was never going to be simple, but for the first two sets Murray made it look like it could be. In Tsonga’s first service game, Murray set out his stall, putting in a dazzling flick low and sharp across the court past the diving Tsonga at net for a break point, when he won as a backhand from the Frenchman went wide. For two sets, Tsonga seemed thoroughly bamboozled, getting drawn into complicated cat-and-mouse exchanges and magnetically lured into net, only to be stung time and again with a passing winner or a shot that forced a volley error. Murray, on the other hand, was the picture of calm and focus, serving beautifully and returning better—Tsonga won only two points behind his second serve in the first set, and none in the second—by consistently putting the ball in tricky positions. It was clean, aggressive hitting and powerful serving, and it took Murray up two sets to love.
But it couldn’t be that simple—and it wasn’t. Murray played a disastrous service game to be broken for 0-2 in the third set. He struck straight back with a cross-court backhand pass for 0-15, but Tsonga consolidated the break, and from that point on the fifth seed found his big-hitting game. Newfound accuracy on his groundstrokes and better serving meant he could come into the net at times of his choosing and finish points off with deft volleys.
Murray, as he can do, retreated back behind the baseline and back into himself, having less opportunities to be aggressive and struggling to take the ones he did have—with the notable exception of a point when Tsonga served for the third set at 5-3, 15-15. With a ball dropping short in the midcourt and his opponent at net, Murray, in a fashion which surely made Coach Lendl proud, didn’t hesitate to drill the ball straight at Tsonga, who took the hit in what you might call a sensitive area, dropping him to his knees.
It wasn’t enough to keep Tsonga from serving out the set, nor to disturb his momentum at the beginning of the fourth when he swiftly recovered an early break with a punishing return. In one of his few negative moments, Murray shrugged sarcastically at his camp, then ranted to himself as he sat down, while Tsonga quietly fist-pumped in his chair.
Both men had chances to break after, but neither would capitalize until, with Tsonga serving at 5-6, a testing return gave up a volley error and two match points for Murray. On the first, Murray read the Tsonga serve, darted out to it, and cracked a forehand return across the court and on to the line. It was called out, but Murray knew it was good and challenged it. Murray sat down, stared up at the sky and wiped away a tear. Then he was off to prepare for the biggest match of his career.