WIMBLEDON, England – This might be Roger Federer’s last, best chance to win a 17th tennis major. It might be Andy Murray’s first, best chance to win his first.
Federer, seeded third and 33 days shy of his 31st birthday, upset the top-seeded, top-ranked defending champion, Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, to advance to a modern era-record eighth Wimbledon final.
And then fourth-seeded Murray, the 25-year-old from Scotland, survived the tumultuous and tumbling tennis of fifth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga with a 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 win to become the first Briton to make it to the men’s final since Henry “Bunny” Austin in 1938.
There’s a statue of Fred Perry on the grounds of the All England Club. He’s the last British man to win the title here, in 1936, and maybe that was why Murray was drawn to tears after his win. Following a statue is not easy.
“At the end of the match it was very emotional,” Murray said. “There is obviously a lot of pressure and stress around this time of year. I try not to think about that stuff. But, yeah, in the back of my mind it’s obviously there.”
To prolong the anxiety of both Murray and the fans on Centre Court, confirmation of his win had to come via video replay. What turned out to be the winning shot was a sizzling forehand return from Murray. The ball skidded off the line but was called out.
Murray challenged and he and Tsonga laughed and talked at the net while waiting for the replay, which confirmed what Murray knew. He was in the final.
Federer wasn’t as outwardly emotional after his upset of Djokovic, winner of four of the previous six majors. There was a fist pump and a shout. But Federer has been in the final here seven times already.
And the defining game of his victory was one Federer lost. It was the sixth game of the third set and what Federer did was make the defending champion run and defend until he was breathless. Djokovic survived a 23-shot rally and two break points before evening the set at 3-3.
Djokovic seemed to play listless tennis afterward, unable to summon the energy he had against Federer at the last two U.S. Opens, when he had come from behind and saved match points to win.
Federer got the decisive break in the final game of the set, on a well-earned overhead, and increased his momentum by racing to a 3-0 lead in the fourth set, breaking Djokovic at 15 in the second game.
Federer never faced a break point the rest of the way. In the final game, even when he couldn’t get a first serve in on the first five points, he still led 40-30, and on the final point he did get his first in and Djokovic’s return missed. Federer threw his hands in the air and bellowed.
Murray, for one, said that Federer will be the favorite Sunday. “The pressure I would be feeling if this was against somebody else, I guess it would be different. But there will be less on me because of who he is,” Murray said. … “It’s a great challenge and one where I’m probably not expected to win the match. But if I play well, I’m capable of winning.”