A frustrating day of rain delays and controversial court switches ended in hugely satisfying fashion for Andy Murray here last night when he came from behind to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and earn a place in today’s Aegon Championships final.
Murray, who played his best tennis of the week to beat the 28-year-old Frenchman 4-6 6-3 6-2, will have to overcome the defending champion, Marin Cilic, to secure his third title here this afternoon, but on this form the 26-year-old Scot will start as the clear favourite.
Murray could not have made a better comeback after being out for a month with the recurring lower back injury that forced him to miss the French Open.
The world No 2’s level dipped from time to time as he beat opponents ranked outside the world’s top 60 in his first three matches, but against one of the best grass-court players in the world he played better and better in the course of a high-quality encounter.
Tsonga, who has reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon for the last two years in a row and was playing in the last four at the French Open 10 days ago, had the better of the first set, but from the moment Murray saved two break points at 3-3 in the second set the Scot took charge. Showing no sign of any problems with his back, Murray showed his usual athleticism around the court and outshone the world No 7 in the latter stages with the quality and variety of his game.
Having not gone on court until after 6pm because of the rain delays, Murray was delighted not to have to return today to complete his semi-final. “I managed to turn that match around against a top player,” he said. “He’s one of the best grass-court players in the world. I’m glad I managed to get through it and don’t have to double-up tomorrow.
“I started to get a better read on his serve in the second set. Each match I’ve started striking the ball a little bit better.”
Cilic, who beat a dogged Lleyton Hewitt 6-4 4-6 6-2 in the other semi-final, beat Murray in the US Open four years ago, but that was the world No 12’s only victory in their nine meetings. Murray beat the 24-year-old Croatian in the fourth round at Wimbledon last year and also in the Davis Cup at the All England Club in 2007.
A tricky afternoon for tournament organisers at the end of a difficult week began with Hewitt and Cilic starting their match on Centre Court almost two hours late at 3.25pm. Within 15 minutes the players were back inside the clubhouse as the heavens opened.
By 5.30pm concerns were growing that there might not be enough time to complete the semi-finals, so the decision was taken to move Hewitt and Cilic to Court One and to stage the Murray-Tsonga match at the same time on Centre Court. It is rare for a match to move to a different court once it has started and Hewitt in particular was not happy with what called a “ridiculous” decision. The Australian accused officials of panicking under pressure.
The crowd on Centre Court were clearly delighted, however, while the bonus of the later start for Murray and Tsonga was that conditions were calmer, Hewitt having served four double faults in the gusting wind earlier in the afternoon.
Murray had a break point in the fourth game, but for most of the first set it was Tsonga putting pressure on his opponent’s serve. Murray served his way out of trouble from 0-40 down at 2-2, but four games later he cracked.
The Frenchman created break point with a stinging backhand return down the line, upon which Murray double-faulted. Tsonga served out for the set after 36 minutes with an ace.
The Scot had made few inroads into Tsonga’s serve until he broke to lead 5-3 in the second set thanks to a stinging return. Both men were hitting form at this point, but in the deciding set the match swung in a dramatic third game, in which Murray had seven break points.
Tsonga kept serving his way out of trouble, but in the end the Frenchman mishit a backhand to give Murray the break.
Two games later Murray broke to love and with the clock approaching 8pm he wrapped up victory with his fifth ace of the match. With the start of Wimbledon only eight days away, he could not have found his form at a better time.