Queen’s 2016: Andy Murray rises to Cilic challenge; plays Raonic for record fifth title

Andy Murray beats former champion Marin Cilic to set up a Queen's Club final clash with Milos Raonic

It is perhaps a measure of the history and quality of the tournament that has been played at the Queen’s Club in the heart of Kensington since 1890 that this year it boasted no fewer than four Grand Slam champions among its 32 starters.

What’s more, all four of them were also accompanied here this year by former Grand Slam champions.

Second onto court would be the four-time Queen’s champion, John McEnroe, who tied up with No3 seed Milos Raonic for the grass season. He would face another four-time Queen’s champion in Lleyton Hewitt, who has been working alongside young Australian Bernard Tomic.

But first on court was four-time and home favourite Andy Murray—No2 in the world, the top seed, and looking for a record fifth Aegon Championship title. He was reunited with the 1989/1990 Queen’s champ Ivan Lendl just days before the grass season after their last stint together yielded not just Murray’s first Grand Slam title and first Wimbledon trophy but Olympic gold on the grass of the All England Club.

He faced the 2012 champion, the man he beat in the title match the following year, Marin Cilic, who is guided by former Wimbledon champion and Queen’s runner-up Goran Ivanisevic.

In a week that has seen wash-outs, repeated breaks in play, thunderstorms and flooding, all the players have felt the keen edge of the weather in London, but Cilic may have suffered the worst. He played his singles quarter-final match, a three-setter, on Friday morning, then two rounds of the heavily-delayed doubles draw later in the day. Perhaps not surprisingly, he and his partner did not reach the doubles semis—but perhaps that was just as well.

And Cilic, in contrast with Murray, had not enjoyed the best of seasons, arriving here after first-round losses at Roland Garros and Stuttgart. He also missed out on all the clay season Masters tournaments with a knee injury, so had yet to find his form. Perhaps all those matches this week would help, or perhaps they would have the opposite effect.

One thing was not in doubt, Murray was neither lacking form nor match-play. Indeed his clay swing was his best ever, his Rome title his first clay Masters, and his Roland Garros run his first final in Paris.

It took a while for both men to hit their stride. The courts were still damp and the air very chill with a blustering wind. There were ominous grey clouds overhead too: It could be a race against time and the rain.

But after a couple of tentative holds, Murray upped the pace and was rewarded with 0-40 and three break points. A couple of forehand winners from the Briton drew an error on the third and the break.

Cilic looked as though he would break straight back, taking a 15-40 advantage, and through several deuces he picked up two more chances to level. But Murray was focused and intent on keeping things simple. His serving was clutch, and he held to consolidate a 3-1 lead. After 35 minutes, he broke again—to love—with some fine first-strike returns to seal the set, 6-3.

Cilic settled strongly into the second set, though, pressured Murray to deuce in the third game, held to love for 2-2, and with Murray already out of challenges, the Croat broke in the seventh game with some fine angled baseline hitting onto the lines.

Murray had a chance to break back when he took Cilic to 0-40 in the next game, but the Croat’s serving came to his rescue, he levelled and aced twice to hold, and made no mistake in serving out the set 6-4.

But it did not take long for Murray to refocus, up the aggression, chide himself to greater effort, and break in the second game with an angled forehand pass.

Now the Murray serve was in a fine groove, and two love holds took him to 4-1. He even had match point in eighth game, but after five deuces, Cilic survived. He could, though, not hold back the Murray serving floodgates, and just a minute short of two hours, he fired his 13th and 14th aces of the match to reach yet another final on the courts he loves almost as much as Wimbledon’s, 6-3. He had won 17/17 points on his first serve and dropped just two on his second: a thoroughly impressive performance.

It did not take long for the Raonic to follow him into the final, either: In fact, just 62 minutes, 6-4, 6-4. With 12 aces and 30/35 first serves in the match, the No9-ranked Raonic will be a formidable force for Murray, too, especially with his determination also to improve his net game and his movement.

The Canadian, too, is a former Wimbledon semi-finalist, and though he has lost his last four matches to Murray, he led the Briton by two sets to one in the Australian Open semi-final this year.

As Murray was quick to point out, however, he had never played Raonic on grass.

“I learned a few things I think from the match in Australia which I took into the next time I played against him in Monte-Carlo [where Murray dropped just two games]. But then it’s a different surface. Clay allows me to do different things against him, and grass obviously has way less rallies. The serve is the biggest strength in his game, so if I get any chances, it’s important to take them when they come, because there’s not going to be too many.”

But Murray is playing more assured tennis with every match here—too soon to be the Lendl influence perhaps, but a boost to his confidence.

“To guarantee myself five matches again here is great after quite a limited preparation, so I’m happy about that. I get the chance now to try and win here for a fifth time, as well, which is a good position to be in. [So] again, this event has worked out extremely well for me… Played some really good stuff today.”

Murray will play for his record fifth title against Raonic at around 14:15 BST on Sunday, weather permitting.

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