It was one of Andy Murray’s longest days and it was filled with hazard. But it finished a good day with a formidable job done impressively well.
For hours there had been thunder on the Centre Court, then came the lightning.
Novak Djokovic survived the thunder for his place in tomorrow’s final but for a little while at least the ferocious serving of 22-year-old Jerzy Janowicz threatened to burn away Murray’s chances of joining him.
Murray again had to fight his way back from a perilous edge. He had to show that the old Andy Murray had left the premises, that he was in charge of both himself and a situation so fraught that at one point in the not so distant past it might have had him raging at the moon.
Now, though, he was proving under the watchful eye of his coach, Ivan Lendl, who he had become – and what he could achieve.
He railed against a premature closing of the roof, but not for long. Certainly not long enough to put at risk the vital work of reaching his second Wimbledon final.
For a second time in three days Murray was threatened with a rude and dramatic ejection as he pursued his mission to win the nation’s first men’s singles title here in 77 years. That is an age in any sport’s history but for Murray yesterday’s ordeal must also have threatened to stretch out almost as bleakly
Janowicz, the 6ft 8in merchant of pure, if somewhat truculent, tennis power from Lodz, ambushed Murray in a first set tie-break. It was supposed to mark the point where he had neutralised the early avalanche of aces and blistering groundstrokes.
Unfortunately, no one mentioned this to Janowicz – and certainly not the Pole’s entourage who clapped rhythmically at his every high point in the early going. There were plenty of them and they came in a worrying rush when he swept the tie-break 7-2.
For Murray the imperative was as pressing as the one that came to him in the quarter-final on Wednesday when the unheralded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco raced to a two-set advantage.
Vitally, he raced to mastery in the second set and then produced some fine serving of his own to rescue break points early in the third. Centre Court had been absorbed by extraordinary tennis in the four hours 33 minutes it took Novak Djokovic to wear down the beauty and the brilliance of Juan Martin del Potro, but here was something entirely different.
Djokovic and Del Potro played the longest semi-final in Wimbledon history. Murray and Janowicz were involved in a tennis version of a fierce firefight.
The Pole demanded to know when the roof would be closed and the lights put on and he became angry when the answers were less than empathic. However, it did nothing to deflect him from his purpose. Murray lost his serve in the fourth game of the third set and at that moment he realised a day that might be one of the most important in his career would be offering no simple escape route.
Murray’s peace of mind had no doubt earlier been buffeted in the long wait to go into action by concern over the challenge of repulsing Janowicz’s 140mph service.
Of all the distractions available the least reassuring was surely offered by the sight of Djokovic and Del Potro ransacking all of their talent for the place on the other side of the net in the final.
Del Potro produced tennis that made his solitary Grand Slam title seem like the most miserly reward.
Some of his shots were diamonds cut from the highest skill and the hardest resolve and if this was a man in need of medical assistance – as he was early in the match – it was chilling to imagine him in this mood and utterly unflawed working order. Murray may well have decided that, relatively speaking, stepping into the shooting gallery in which the Pole was about to pass the mark of a 100 tournament aces was a much softer option.
Djokovic was as resolute as ever, even when so many of his most ferocious instincts went missing in the second set – and Del Potro kept producing shots of the most beguiling class.
Murray had never been under any illusion that he might be involved here in a triumphal procession after his breakthrough of Olympic gold and the US Open title last year. But he could hardly have expected the scale of his challenge to be defined quite so vividly. Del Potro was wounded but sublime. Djokovic, once again, was devouring.
It meant that Murray knew, more clearly than ever before, the precise nature of his chore in the early evening sunshine. He had to deal with a dangerous young gun when the smoke of battle between two masters had finally cleared. It was, his expression seemed to say, the most relentless work.
The intensity of it increased sharply in the potentially pivotal third set when Murray fought so desperately to retrieve the service break – and complained about the fact that his opponent was not only serving ferociously but also shouting mid-rally.
He won back the service break, Janowicz glowered, and asked again about the roof. Murray, by contrast, was now living in the moment, making his shots and thrilling the crowd as he brought the score to 4-4 with a service game as subtle as Janowicz’s had been suffused with power. The latter smashed his racket into the net when he missed a Murray drop shot –and then responded with a successful one of his own
What he couldn’t do, though, at this critical point was stem the flow of Murray’s regained assurance. There was still power in the Polish shot, still a belligerent reluctance to bend the big, long knee, but from Murray there was the distinct sense of a crisis resolved.
This was underlined impressively when he aced his way to the third set, and that was achieved with so much confidence that even his anger that his opponent had apparently successful campaigned for the delay which would come with the roof closing cast only the smallest doubt about his ability to finish the job.
They were merely closing the roof, sometime after a version of it had fallen on Janowicz’s head.
Could Murray maintain his momentum and fulfil his date with Djokovic? Suddenly, it seemed one of the less intriguing questions of the day that had stretched so long and so demandingly.
He did it all right. He did it magnificently.Reuse content