Tennis: Fired-up Murray sets up golden shot at redemption

 

Wimbledon

The venue and the opponents will be the same but this time it will be Olympic gold at stake when Andy Murray and Roger Federer rejoin battle here tomorrow. Just four weeks after Federer ended Murray's dream of becoming Britain's first men's singles champion at Wimbledon for 76 years, the greatest player in history will again aim to deny him glory in a final on Centre Court.

The Scot and the Swiss booked their rematch after two wonderful semi- finals yesterday. Federer, who won gold in doubles four years ago but has never won an Olympic medal in singles, beat Juan Martin del Potro 3-6, 7-6, 19-17 in a record-breaking marathon before Murray produced one of the performances of his life to beat Novak Djokovic 7-5, 7-5.

Murray has been fired up for this tournament from the start and won with a sensational display of attacking tennis to the delight of a raucous crowd on Centre Court. The world No 4, playing with great passion, took the game to Djokovic, served with power and precision and kept his focus throughout.

With the crowd creating a wall of noise, Murray said afterwards that he had never experienced such an occasion and had never enjoyed himself so much at a tournament. "The atmosphere is unbelievable, different to pretty much anything I've been in before," he said. "We've always said night matches at the US Open produce the best atmosphere, but it's not even close to what it was today."

He added: "To get through and guarantee myself a medal was great. That's what I wanted to try and achieve before the tournament started. But now I'm in the final and have a chance to win a gold medal. I won't have that chance for another four years, so I'll give it everything I can."

Because of the length of Federer's match, Murray and Djokovic did not start until 6.30pm, but they wasted no time in getting down to business. The quality of the tennis was superb as both men went for their shots. Murray took the opening set with the first break of serve in the match and saved break points in four different games in the second set as Djokovic, playing with equal desire, pushed the Scot hard. At 5-6, however, the Serb made crucial mistakes and Murray converted his first match point with a fine backhand return of serve to the world No 2's feet.

Federer needed four hours and 26 minutes to beat Del Potro. It was the longest match in Olympic history and the longest three-set men's match in the Open era. It had echoes of Federer's 2009 Wimbledon final against Andy Roddick, which he won 16-14 in the final set – the previous longest set he had played – but this time it was the Swiss who kept serving to stay in the match. He did so 13 times in the decider before Del Potro finally crumbled.

The 23-year-old Argentine, who beat Federer in the 2009 US Open final but has struggled to rescale such heights since spending a year out of the game with a wrist injury, fought like a tiger, never more so than when he broke the world No 1 to love when he served for the match at 10-9. At 17-17, however, Federer broke for only the second time in the match and on this occasion he was not to be denied.

Both men had tears in their eyes at the end. Federer kissed the Swiss flag on his shirt and gave Del Potro a warm embrace. "I felt for him in a big way because I've been there, as well," he said. "I told him he should be very proud. I thought he played such a great match."

Del Potro, who still has the chance to win a medal in tomorrow's bronze medal match against Djokovic, admitted: "To lose this way hurts a lot. It's very hard to talk about it right now."

Because of the late-running programme the mixed doubles quarter-final between Murray and Laura Robson and Australia's Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Stosur was postponed until today.

Serena Williams will face Maria Sharapova in this afternoon's women's final. Williams, who has been in outstanding form all week, crushed Victoria Azarenka, the world No 1, 6-1, 6-2. Sharapova, who has lost to Williams seven times in a row, beat her fellow Russian, Maria Kirilenko, 6-2, 6-3.

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