The Aegon Championships are on the lowest tier of competitions on the men’s tour, but winning the title here on Sunday must have felt like one of the more significant of the 27 tournament triumphs of Andy Murray’s career. All the worries of the last month over the back injury which had forced the 26-year-old Scot to miss the recent French Open were pushed aside as he came from behind to beat Marin Cilic 5-7, 7-5, 6-3 and win the title for the third time in the last five years.
Murray became the first Briton to claim three Queen’s titles since Arthur Lowe completed his hat-trick in 1925 at the near-Dad’s Army age of 39, but for the world No 2 this was a battle in preparation for a war. With Wimbledon beginning a week this Monday, he has found both his form and his fitness at just the right time.
Having eased his way back into competition with victories over journeymen in his first three matches following an enforced four-week absence, Murray secured the fourth grass-court title of his career by coming from behind on successive days to beat opponents who are among the best in the game on this surface.
The Scot followed up his victory on Saturday over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a Wimbledon semi-finalist for the last two years, by thwarting Cilic’s attempt to win the title here for the second year in succession.
Murray’s form over the last two days will have sent a resounding message to his rivals. Having reached last year’s final at Wimbledon and earned revenge over Roger Federer in the ensuing Olympic tournament, he had long been regarded by many as the favourite to win at the All England Club next month. Such expectations might have faded when he struggled with his lower back injury, but he has put himself firmly back in the mix.
Among active players only Federer and Lleyton Hewitt have won more matches and more titles on grass than Murray, who showed again what a master he is of this surface. Grass tests every aspect of your game and Murray’s all-round excellence eventually gave him the edge over Cilic (below). By the end the world No 12 was struggling to contain his exuberant opponent, who attacked the ball with relish and charged around the court like a spring chicken with a hungry fox in pursuit.
“I worked very hard in the time that I had off to try and get myself back in the best shape possible,” Murray said afterwards. “ My team helped me a lot. They were patient with me and it’s why I was able to come out and play so tough in the last couple of matches.”
Murray described Cilic as one of the best grass-court players in the world. “We’ve had a lot of close matches and I was lucky to come through at the end because he was playing such good tennis,” he said.
Cilic said it had been “a great match from both sides, a great level of tennis”. He said that Murray had proved he was “a great fighter”.
After a week punctuated by rain delays there was a period when it seemed that the tournament might be heading for its second Monday final in three years. The scheduled start had been brought forward by two hours to 12.15 because of the bad weather forecast, but there was already rain in the air.
Following all the stresses and strains of the last few days, which reached a peak with Saturday’s controversial decision to move the Cilic-Hewitt semi-final to a different court mid-match, tournament organisers will probably need to do a week of yoga breathing to recover.
Following one false start, when the rain returned just as the players completed their warm-up, the final eventually got under way more than three hours late. The conditions were cool, but at least there was little wind and by the end the sun was shining brightly.
Murray, having beaten the elements to win his semi-final against Tsonga at 8pm the previous evening, seemed keen to get the job done as quickly as possible. The Scot bristled with aggression, charging into the net on the opening point, and raced into a 3-0 lead.
Cilic, however, played his way back into contention, retrieved the break and levelled at 4-4. In the eighth game Murray took a nasty tumble after his right foot gave way underneath him. The Scot lay on the floor for a few worrying moments before dusting himself down and carrying on, though he seemed to move more cautiously at first and said afterwards that the fall had left his groin feeling sore.
At 5-5 Cilic forced two more break points with a thumping backhand return. He needed only one of them as Murray missed a forehand to give the Croatian the opportunity to serve out for the set, which he duly took after saving a break point with a service winner.
The second set settled into some typical grass-court tennis, with the server holding sway. Murray, however, was starting to make inroads into Cilic’s service games and when the Croatian served at 5-6 he was immediately put under pressure by a superb winning lob. A missed backhand gave Murray set point and a forehand in the net handed him the set.
By now Murray was pressing hard and Cilic cracked again in the third game of the decider when he went for too much on a forehand on break point and put the ball wide. Murray, hitting some superb passing shots, had chances to break again in Cilic’s next two service games, but the Croatian held on until the Scot served out for victory.
Murray’s delight was evident and at the end he blew a kiss to his close friend, Ross Hutchins, who was diagnosed with cancer at the end of last year. A charity doubles match followed, with the proceeds going to the Royal Marsden, the cancer centre which has been treating Hutchins. It was a reminder that, within the overall scheme of things, this was only a tennis match. For Murray, nevertheless, it was a match which could prove to be of great significance.