Can Murray mount final challenge?

7 07 2012

‘I can cry like Roger, just a shame I can’t play like him’ – (after losing to Federer in the 2010 Australian Open)

‘It’s a great challenge, one where I’m probably not expected to win the match, but it is one that if I play well, I’m capable of winning’- (Wimbledon 2012)  

‘If you look at his (Federer’s) record over the past ten years or so, it’s been incredible. So the pressure that I would be feeling, if it was against somebody else, I guess it would be different. There will be less on me on Sunday because of who he is’- (Wimbledon 2012)


Seventy six years on from the last of Fred Perry’s three All England Club titles, and seventy-four years after Bunny Austin, the last British man to contest the Wimbledon singles final (how many times have we heard that in commentary?) finally, Andy Murray has his chance to make British tennis history.

After falling short in three successive All England Championship semis, he has made it through to Sunday’s SW19 show-piece final. But can he mount a realistic challenge against all-time great, centre court favourite, smiling Swiss assassin, Roger Federer?   

For Murray, at 25, ranked number 4 in the world, it seems there couldn’t be a better time or place, in Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics year, to chalk up that illusive first grand-slam win.  

It is never easy watching Murray play. We’ve seen it all before. It’s always an emotionally draining exercise. We know and, indeed, expect that a dominant service game, and  extended periods of baseline control, punctuated with flashing backhand winners, will at some stage give way to a  loss of focus, spawning a rash of unforced errors, and a subsequent, nervy, up-hill struggle to close out a match that should have been won more comfortably.

Yesterday’s semi against the ebullient, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was no different. Two sets up and seemingly coasting against an opponent, who was clearly struggling with injury, Murray relaxed – maybe just for a moment allowing himself to believe that all-illusive final place was safely within his grasp.

But following an extended change-over, during which Tsonga received treatment, the athletic Frenchman came bounding back from the physio’s table, immediately upping his game against the Scot, who promptly stalled, double faulting at the start of the third set and losing his service game to love.

What had looked a regulation three set victory was suddenly ‘game on’. In fairness to Murray he steadied the ship, kept his nerve and came again, without ever playing as convincingly as he had earlier on.

Assisted by some lose stroke-play from his opponent, Murray hung in to claw his way across the finishing line, in four sets – a deserved win but one which ought to have been more comprehensive.

Typically, when the moment of victory finally arrived it  wasn’t without incident and drama. At 6-5 up and match point, Murray pulled out a sensational forehand cross court ‘winner’, before dropping his racket to the floor in relief, and anticipation of thunderous centre-court applause, only to hear the shot called, ‘Out!’

There were a few tantalising, anti-climatic  moments, in which to think the unthinkable  – before  ‘Hawk-Eye’ indicated that the ball had clipped the line, and Murray’s moment of destiny was confirmed.                 

It is difficult to imagine Federer, at 33, with twenty-four grand-slam finals under his belt, and still hungry for a record equalling seventh Wimbledon title, in his eighth appearance, allowing Murray to get away with a mid-match lapse of concentration.

Many had considered Federer’s all-conquering career over, as he slipped to 3rd in the world rankings, apparently losing touch with younger guns Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But true champions don’t just roll over, they dig deep and come back stronger, which is exactly what the Swiss tennis legend has done.       

In yesterday’s semi-final, Federer, ever the artist, was sublime in disposing of last year’s champion, world number one, Djokovic. Although five years his senior, ‘RF’ was  back to his formidable best, dismissing the Serb in a  surprisingly one-sided four setter.  

In that kind of form, it is hard to see the six-time champion, motivated by his desire to match Pete Sampras’s Wimbledon record of seven singles titles, who openly admits, ‘I’ve missed being in the final here for the last couple of years,’ failing to deliver.

Federer’s post-match declaration that, ‘I’m aware the tournament is not over. I didn’t break down crying and fall to my knees and think I’ve achieved what I wanted,’ was ominous.       

As for Murray, he has looked a much more complete package since, former world number one champion, Ivan Lendl took over as his coach. Even so, it is going to be a huge task, on his Wimbledon final debut, to overcome, arguably, the greatest men’s player ever.

But the young man who as nine-year old schoolboy, escaped the Dunblane school massacre, by taking refuge from the gunfire, in a classroom, is in a very real sense a survivor. Despite his understandable reluctance to discuss the tragic events of 1996, on grounds that he was too young to understand what was going on, it is difficult to imagine it can have been other than a traumatic experience that will remain with him forever.

I would suggest any amount of Murray mania and centre court pressure, from the expectant crowd, is as nothing by comparison. This year we have seen Murray raising his fingers and gazing heavenward in a private ritual, after each win, and I have wondered if he might me paying tribute to the  memory of his lost school mates –  we’ll never know.

Federer is the better player. Although Murray boasts a decent record from their previous encounters, he will have to play a near flawless game in order to have any chance of avoiding the ‘losing finalist’ tag. But occasionally the unexpected does happen. We’ve seen it already this year when, 100th ranked, Czech Lukas Rosol played the match of his life to knock out, number 2 seed, Nadal. There are no scripts, and that is what makes top-level sport so appealing.

Murray has come through a tough draw this year, being shown no favouritism by the organising committee, he’s had to contend with grave-yard shifts and rain interrupted matches on number one court, while other top seeds have played beneath the centre court roof. He’s even been docked points for troublelsome balls – popping out of his shorts pocket!

Perhaps he’s overdue a slice of good fortune. So, while the head very definitely says no, it might just be that Murray’s name is on the trophy. I hope so…    








3 responses

7 07 2012
Katie Carter

Brilliantly written Phil

7 07 2012
Phil Aldridge

Thanks Katie. What do you reckon to AVB at White Hart Lane? I think he’s learnt a few lessons & will do a decent job for you.

8 07 2012
Gerry Brace

Fully agree with Katie – looking forward to your post match blog, whtever the outcome.

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