Wimbledon 2016: Murray beats Tsonga in thriller to reach 20th Major semi

Andy Murray survives a five-set thriller against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon 2016

Two days after claiming his 50th win at Wimbledon, world No2 Andy Murray, the highest ranked player remaining in the draw, is aiming for his century: 100 wins on grass.

For he is, after Roger Federer, the most successful man in the Open era on the green turf of home: five Queen’s titles, plus Olympic gold and the 2013 Wimbledon title on this Club’s hallowed Centre Court.

But that’s not all. Murray is aiming for his 20th Grand Slam semi-final, which would take him to eighth on the Open Era list. Were it not for the three active players above him on that list—Federer, who reached his 40th an hour before, Novak Djokovic with 30, and Rafael Nadal’s 23—who knows how many more finals Murray may have reached.

This, then, continues to be a golden era that boasts three of the best players ever to pick up a racket: That is the context in which Murray not only thrives but continues to improve.

This would be his ninth straight Wimbledon quarter-final, and the 21st from his last 22 Majors. And as well as being the first British man in 77 years to win the title here in 2013, the first to lead his nation to the Davis Cup in as many years, and last month being the first to reach the French Open final since 1937, he had already won more matches at Grand Slam level—169—than any other British man.

What’s more, with the dismissal of arch-rival, world No1 and defending champion Djokovic in the third round here, Murray was not just the home nation’s favourite but the pundits’ favourite to win his second title at the All England Club.

However, if he was to win that 100th match on grass, he had first to beat No12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and that was no small task. Certainly, Murray had beaten the charismatic Frenchman 12 times in 14, but their four previous grass-court matches showed just how good Tsonga could be on this surface.

Twice at Queen’s Tsonga won the first set before Murray came back in three. In the quarters of Wimbledon in 2010, Tsonga also took the first set tie-break before Murray edged the second tie-break and went on to win in four. And in their semi meeting here in 2012—Tsonga’s second semi at Wimbledon—it was another four-setter.

Tsonga, like Murray, was setting national records along the way, too: He now had more Major match-wins than any other Frenchman.

The first set was just as close as their previous record anticipated. Murray, who had yet to drop a set in the tournament, looked well on the way to a swift win when a tense Tsonga double faulted in the fifth game to hand a quick break to the Briton. Murray then survived a marathon sixth game and break points to consolidate, but Tsonga was just getting into his stride, and did level for 4-4. Not for the first time, they headed to a tie-break.

All Tsonga’s touch around the net came into play, and he took a 6-4 lead, but Murray levelled. Tsonga had to two more set points, but Murray’s serving was clutch and after an hour and 17 minutes, he had the set, 7-6(10).

Tsonga, whose concentration can blow hot and cold, suffered a let down from the adrenalin-fuelled first set and he sprayed errors off both wings. Two breaks, backed by love holds from Murray, took the Briton to 5-0, and he had the set in a tidy 26 minutes, 6-1. He had made just one unforced error to Tsonga’s 12.

But the momentum was to switch markedly in the third set. This time Tsonga broke in the fourth, and no matter that Murray slotted a couple of stunning passes off some deft drop shots from Tsonga, he could not break back and the Frenchman served out the set, 6-3.

The match was already two and a half hours old, and Murray immediately found himself fending off deuce in the first game. He resisted, and it was Tsonga, after taking a tumble at the net, who then offered up three break points, and all at once, Murray led 4-2.

Yet in the blink of an eye, it was Murray who faced 0-40. He pulled things back to deuce, only for Tsonga to work another chance, and this time he converted: 4-4. Murray seemed set to hit right back, but Tsonga was bold and resilient in fighting off three more break points, broke in the next, and served it out, 6-4.

Murray was becoming increasingly angry with himself and with everything around him. Yet he dug in, saved a break point in the first game of the decider, clenched his fists, and cracked an aggressive return of serve followed by a drive volley to go 2-0.

Now with the bit between his teeth, Murray raced for the line, dropping just one game, 6-1, closing it out to love with an ace.

It had taken almost four hours, and it showed in Murray’s face when he came off court.

“Tough match. End of that fourth set was really tough. To lose that set 6-4 was hard. Tried to use all my energy at the start of the fifth set, and get the crowd pumped up: It’s been a long day for them too!”

He referred to the three and a quarter hour fest between Federer and Marin Cilic, but it will be the No10 seed, Tomas Berdych, a runner-up at Wimbledon in 2010, who Murray faces in the semis.

Berdych took under two hours to see off the quarter-final debutant Lucas Pouille, who had never won a match on grass before this week, 7-6(4) 6-3, 6-2.

Murray has beaten the Czech in eight of their 14 matches, and in their last four. They have, though, never played on grass, and Murray admitted it could be a tight affair.

“He’s very tough. He’s been to the final here, beaten Djokovic and Federer at Wimbledon. He had a tough battle and came through against Vesely. I’ll need to play well.”

One thing is guaranteed: The 2013 champion and owner of 100 wins on grass will leave everything on the court in his effort to make it 101.

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