Andy Murray in position to be Great Scot, or not
AP Sports Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – There he was, mouth agape, roaring like a Highlands warrior in full battle cry in “Braveheart.”
The force from Andy Murray’s lungs seemed to add heft to the forehand winner he hurled down the line. The match turned there – in the fifth game of the second set – and it would not be long before the 22-year-old Scot was on his way to the Australian Open final.
After dropping serve twice in the opening set to Croatia’s Marin Cilic, Murray recovered to win the semifinal 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 and reach his second Grand Slam final.
“It was really important because I don’t want to say the match was slipping away from me, but the momentum was definitely with him,” Murray said.
Now, with only top-ranked Roger Federer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga ahead, he is one win from breaking a drought for British men at the four majors that dates to Fred Perry in 1936.
That’s a lot of pressure on Murray. It proved too much for the likes of Tim Henman, John Lloyd and others. But the pressure valve was released, at least for a few sets Thursday night, in one riveting point.
Murray raced to the net to reach a ball that had caught the net and dropped onto his side. He then made a lunging volley to extend the rally and sprinted back to the baseline to chase down Cilic’s deep lob. Somehow, spinning as he swung the racket blindly right to left, he hit a forehand winner past Cilic.
Then he roared a prolonged roar.
The challenge from Cilic, who had beaten Murray in straight sets in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, faded. The more than eight hours he had spent on court across five matches had taken its toll.
“He played some really aggressive tennis … was putting me under a lot of pressure,” Murray said. “But, yeah, that shot made a big difference. I just managed to chase it down.”
After watching the replay, he added in his understated monotone: “I never realized my mouth was so big.”
And, by the way, he insists he practices that shot.
Murray is the first British man to reach two Grand Slam finals in the Open era and the first to reach the Australian Open final since Lloyd in 1977. He will watch Friday night’s semifinal between Federer, a three-time Australian champ, and Tsonga, the 2008 runner-up.
Federer, who beat Murray in the U.S. Open final in 2008, is in his 23rd consecutive Grand Slam semifinal – more than double the previous record stretch – and has won a record 15 major singles titles.
The Swiss star was in every Grand Slam final last year, losing in Australia to Rafael Nadal and losing at the U.S. Open to Juan Martin del Potro.
But Murray, who beat an injured Nadal in the quarterfinals, has a 6-4 record in head-to-heads with Federer and is 2-1 against Tsonga. That gives hope to millions of Britons. And that’s also why Murray is happy to be on the other side of the world.
“You don’t really feel it that much. Wimbledon is a bit different, especially in the lead-up to the tournament,” he said. “But when you’re away, don’t take any notice of it … just kind of avoid it, I guess.”
There are no expectations on Tsonga. He can swing with the freedom he did in his five-set win over 2008 champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
In 11 Grand Slam tournaments, he’d never played a five-set match. Now he’s played two back-to-back. Immediately after beating Djokovic, to avenge his loss in Australia two years ago, he told the stadium fans he was ready for more right away, pointing to the crowd and asking for volunteers.
But he faces the best in the business in Federer. After falling a set and a break down against No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals, Federer changed gears and won 13 straight games to take the match away from the Russian, who had been riding a 13-match winning streak.
Justine Henin did much the same thing to Zheng Jie, who won only the first game of their semifinal on Thursday. Henin, once ranked No. 1, saved three break points in the next game. That was the start of a 12-game roll that ended 6-1, 6-0 in 51 minutes – the shortest match of the tournament and the most lopsided in 27 years.
Henin, only two tournaments into a comeback from a year and a half in retirement, is aiming for an eighth Grand Slam title and first in Australia since 2004. She’ll have to get past four-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams first. And Williams has never lost a final at Melbourne Park.
The top-ranked Williams had to work to hold off Li Na, who rallied past older sister Venus Williams in the quarterfinals in two tiebreakers.
After getting two players into the semifinals at a major for the first time, China will have to wait to produce a finalist.
Murray thinks he has matured as a player because of his trip to the final against Federer at Flushing Meadows in 2008 and his narrow loss in the Wimbledon semifinals to Andy Roddick, who then took Federer to 16-14 in the fifth set in the final.
“This is the best I’ve played at a Slam,” he said. “Obviously the match against Rafa was great. Tonight, the majority of the match was great, as well. Yeah, I feel good. Physically I’m going to be fresh for the final.”
And when it comes to winning, he won’t be just doing it for Britain.
“I want to win it obviously for the people that I work with, for my parents and stuff, who obviously helped me when I was growing up. Then doing it for British tennis and British sport would be excellent, as well,” he said.
“The pressure that I feel doesn’t come from the people that are around me – they obviously are happy with anything that I do. But I want to win for them first.”