Queen’s win shows Murray is ready for Wimbledon
The style of the Scot's second win at this prestigious event suggests he may now have what it takes at SW19
It’s been a long time coming. In 2009, Andy Murray became the first Briton since the second world war to win the Queen’s title.
On People’s Monday -one of those glorious occasions when inclement weather offers the chance of affordable tennis to the fans -Murray became the first Briton since the war to win it twice with a 3-6 7-6 6-4 defeat of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
But the style with which he achieved his latest win -his first title this year -raises the very real prospect of a still more momentous break-through on England’s famous lawns on the first Sunday in July.
For this time, Murray looks and sounds ready to claim not only his first Grand Slam title but, with perfect timing, the Wimbledon one. “This has been one of the most fun weeks I’ve had on the tour. I love it here,” he said.
And if he goes on to succeed at the All England Club, Murray will rewrite another record from the 1930s – that of the last British man to win Wimbledon, Fred Perry.
The 2011 Queen’s final was a long time coming in an altogether different way, too: 24 hours later than it should have.
In a week riddled with showers, the grass was covered and uncovered with frustrating regularity and outside courts were hastily made ready for a schedule that had, at times, to overflow beyond the Centre Court.
In the end, though, it could not have turned out better. Seats originally priced at £95 were sold for a rescheduled Monday finale at £10 a throw, and they sold like hotcakes. Queues began to assemble outside the gates at 2am on Monday morning.
There were only a 1,000 first-come, first-served tickets on offer, but the unlucky ones simply joined in the spirit of Murray Monday and watched the action on big screens in the grounds.
The Queen’s Club, too, entered into the mood. The two proud youngsters who accompanied Murray and his popular opponent, Tsonga, onto court had been picked from the queue.
Even without the records that lay on the court’s white lines, there was a buzz about this match because both men had found better form with each passing game.
Murray began steadily, nursing back to health an ankle injury sustained at the French Open, but wins over the talented Xavier Malisse and Janko Tipsarevic did their stuff and Murray’s semifinal victory over Andy Roddick was a treat of the highest order.
Even Murray had to smile. “It was one of those days where I hardly missed a ball. Everything that touched my racquet was going in. I felt great out there. I played great.”
The big-hitting Tsonga had also thrilled the Centre Court crowd with an impressive performance over Rafael Nadal, a three-set victory that boasted 25 aces and the kind of touch around the net that many players can only dream of.
So both men, free of permanent coaches, were finding uninhibited tennis at the same time: It all pointed to a great final.
It was Tsonga who began with the biggest flourish while Murray attempted to resist the Frenchman’s big-hitting ground strokes mixed with net-rushes and inspired volleying.
Murray’s first break chance came in the third game but, in a pattern that became familiar through the match, Tsonga found a big serve backed up by a deep forehand and a volley put-away.
By the fifth game, Tsonga was delivering 142mph serves. By the sixth, he had upped his tactics with a chip-and-charge against Murray’s second serve and a Gasquet-like single-handed backhand winner down the line. A cross-court forehand sealed a love game to break the Murray serve.
The tables were almost turned in the seventh as Murray levelled the score at deuce but Tsonga extinguished the threat with two outstanding air-bound smashes to lead 5-2.
There were now, though, signs of the Murray magic and he brought up two break chances, one with a glorious cross-court forehand pass, but Tsonga replied with an outrageous bullet of a forehand winner and served out the set, 6-4.
Tsonga’s opening game in the second set was also inspired, mixing up slice with angled touch volleys. His next service game was equally spectacular from both men as they combined to produce net cords, lobs and smashes.
As both men hit their best, the pace off the ground was stunning: Tsonga averaged 78mph and Murray 69. A 139mph serve staved off the first of seven break-point chances for Murray in the eighth game, and a 130mph serve held off the second. Tsonga closed out the 11-minute game with a 140mph delivery: 4-4.
In the 11th game, Tsonga had a chance to attack Murray’s second serve and went up 40-15, but Murray won a reprieve with a net-cord that looked for all the world like a Tsonga winner but bounced back at the last moment.
Yet more fireworks came in the 12th as Tsonga dived for winning volleys and drops shots, picking off a reflex volley from a Murray between-the-legs defensive return. It was smiles all round from players and spectators: It was also a tie-breaker.
Murray at last opened up a winning margin of 5-2 lead with a couple of forehand passing shots, and two big serves finished off the set in his favour.
The final set opened with more quality exchanges culminating in a perfect Tsonga lob. The Frenchman then survived a break point in the third game with the kind of attacking tennis that had got him thus far: a race to the net finished off by a volley winner.
But more break points came Murray’s way in the fifth as he began to look the more dominant of the two men. He needed to convert what had become a string of almost a dozen chances and this time he did so with a big forehand winner.
Murray’s confidence began to shine through, and although Tsonga held serve to keep the gap at 3-4, Murray replied with a love hold that ended with a show-stopper half-volley winner between his legs that brought gasps and cheers in equal measures.
It was almost gratuitous, and hinted at a showman that few had seen before.
Tsonga held, but the smile had disappeared from his face for the first time in the match. It was the work of a minute for Murray to seal the Championship with his serve.
And so, with the biggest trophy in tennis in his possession for a second time, Murray made his statement of intent. Fresh from his most successful Paris run, Murray has made the transition to grass with apparent ease. But what stood out, in this most English of venues, is how the reticent Scot seems to have come out of his shell in a way rarely seen on the London turf.
He is blogging for the BBC, he is Tweeting to the fans, he is smiling on court, and has been disarming in his post-match interviews.
He looks, in short, both relaxed and confident. Add in the kind of tennis he played to win the Aegon Championships in front of a Queen’s Club packed with supporters, and this feels like it just might be his time.