JOHN O’SULLIVAN at Wimbledon – The Irish Times
TENNIS: ANDY MURRAY, the front man for a nation, must find a way past the greatest player in tennis history, Roger Federer in tomorrow’s men’s singles final at Wimbledon. The collision will be emotive, irrespective of who prevails.
History is peering over the shoulder of both players, awaiting revision and to determine who will pen the new chapter. It was an enthralling afternoon and evening on Centre Court. Federer decanted a vintage performance, reminiscent of his pomp, to defy his nemesis Novak Djokovic in glorious fashion. For once the Serbian could not extricate himself from his predicament and was dethroned as champion.
Federer had lost on the last seven occasions they met, twice enduring the agony of not being able to convert match points in Grand Slams, but this win will provide a salve for those memories. Triumphing in four sets, 6-3 3-6 6-4 6-3 under a closed roof, the Swiss was master of his favourite environment. Although they had squared up 26 times previously, it had never been on grass.
Federer played with an intensity that never waned from the first point to the service winner that confirmed him as victor two hours and 29 minutes later. The key to his victory, apart from serving authoritatively, was the aggression with which he pursued his ground-strokes. He alternated between slicing deep and hitting his backhand, denying his opponent an easy rhythm.
He moved Djokovic around the court, engineering positions to open his shoulders and also cut off court space by taking the net, daring his opponent to find the lines. Djokovic couldn’t manage it often enough.
His despair in the shoddy manner in which he coughed up his serve to lose the third set permeated his play at the start of the fourth, where he was broken again. He wasn’t moving well, going for two many low percentage options.
Forlorn glances to his entourage underlined his perplexed state of mind. The Serbian admitted: “Well, I thought from the beginning of the match up to the end of the third set we were quite even. I dropped the percentage of the first serve at the end of the third set.
“A bad service game on 5-4, and obviously he uses his opportunities when they’re presented. You have to be consistent; I wasn’t. In the start of the fourth set I dropped in the energy level. I played a couple of sloppy games; very slow, with no pace, very low percentage of first serves.”
Federer acknowledged that he had played superbly and was now within touching distance of equalling Peter Sampras’s record of a seventh title. His victory yesterday meant that he stands alone as the only man to reach eight Wimbledon finals.
“I’m very proud to have a shot of equalling Pete. Obviously I’d love to win the title. I have one more match to go. I’m aware of that. Still it’s always nice beating someone like Novak, who has done so well here last year; the last couple of years. We’ve never played on grass. It was obviously a big occasion. These matches only help my confidence. I hope I can use it then for the final.”
There he’ll face Murray, who shifted a millstone or two from around his shoulders in beating Tsonga 6-3 6-4 3-6 7-5. The roof was open and the sun shone for his win which saw him become the first British player since Bunny Austin in 1938 to win a men’s singles semi-final at the All-England club, ending a sequence of 11 defeats for the home players at the penultimate stage of the tournament.
Three of those belonged to Murray but he was not to be denied this time. His French opponent resembled a faulty thermostat that fluctuated wildly between the cold and hot in terms of his play. His courage and grace could not be faulted.
The Scot spoke about the pressure and stress that hovers at this time of the year. The bronze statue of Fred Perry, the last home-born winner of the Wimbledon singles title in 1936, stands sentinel outside Centre Court as a reminder and Murray understands the legacy better than most.
He will demand more of himself that any external influences could induce in pursuing a first Grand Slam. Beating Federer at Wimbledon to achieve that – he’s lost a couple of Slam finals to the Swiss player – would gilt-edge the moment. “Yeah, it obviously would be very nice. I can’t allow myself to think that far ahead.
“I’ll talk to the guys about the match tomorrow and just focus on getting the tactics right and hopefully playing a match. There’s obviously going to be nerves and pressure there for sure, but I need to try and stay focused.”
He accepted that grass as a surface provides volatility in terms of a match changing quickly. “Most of the sets are normally decided on one or two break points, a couple of mistakes here or there or a couple of great shots. Even if I lose the first set or the second set, you can always come back.
“Roger lost a couple matches from a couple of sets up the last few years. So whereas in the past you might have thought going two sets down it was impossible. There’s still time to come back. But ideally you want to try to get off to a good start: that would make a big difference, I’m sure.”
Today, though, the women take centre stage. Serena Williams chases a fifth women’s singles title against number three seed and Grand Slam final debutante Agnieszka Radwanska.
The 23-year-old Pole missed her pre-match press conference with a viral infection in her throat. She had enough to grapple with in the first place.
It promises to be a fascinating 48 hours in SW19.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]