Wimbledon 2016: Murray storms past Berdych into title match with Raonic
The British number one will face sixth seed Milos Raonic in Wimbledon final after beating Tomas Berdych in straight sets
Andy Murray knew he had a fight on his hands if he was to keep alive his hopes of a second Wimbledon and a third Grand Slam title.
After all, Tomas Berdych was and continues to be one of the most consistent men in the top 10, where he has resided since reaching his first—and thus far only—Wimbledon final in 2010. Indeed the big 30-year-old Czech has reached at least the semis in all the Majors, and thus far had reached at least the quarters in each Major this year.
Now he was contesting his second semi here, having put up some stern resistance against tough and youthful opposition such as Sascha Zverev, Jiri Vesely and Lucas Pouille. But that all meant he had spent more time on court than any of his fellow semi-finalists—and his record against Murray suggested that another final run may remain out of his reach.
For with Murray’s arch rival and defending champion Novak Djokovic out of the picture, unexpectedly beaten in the third round this year, the world No2 had become the favourite for his home Major not just with the partisan British crowd but with experts and pundits around the world.
Since he beat Berdych in the semis on his way to the US Open title in 2012, the Czech had managed only two wins over the Briton, and those in the season where Murray battled with back injury that culminated in surgery after the US Open in 2013. Since dropping a set to Berdych in their 2015 Australian semi-final, Murray had barely broken sweat, had not dropped more than eight games in each of their three Masters contests.
Now, too, Murray had a secret—well not-so-secret—weapon: Ivan Lendl. It was the wily eight-time Grand Slam champion whose calm, focused intellect had channelled Murray to Olympic gold and his first Major title in New York, and then to the Wimbledon title.
They then parted ways—Lendl wanted time away from the tennis road-show—but ahead of this year’s grass season, Murray persuaded him back to the British corner, ably supported by Jamie Delgado—and Murray promptly won his fifth Queen’s title.
Not that Murray had anything to complain about from his season thus far, arguably his best ever on clay. But since hitting the grass, his game had looked more aggressive, his demeanour more focused. And before digging deep to stave off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters, Murray admitted:
“I think the last weeks have gone extremely well. The time I spent with him beforehand was very good. I think actually it give a bit of extra confidence, because I know last time we worked together, it was very successful. I trust in what he says.”
Add in an extra footnote to their reunion—that Berdych had sounded out the Czech veteran for his own coach—and this became perhaps their most interesting meeting since Berdych recruited Dani Vallverdu—now separated again—from Murray’s camp.
Did Murray need any more encouragement than the entire support of the Centre Court, or the knowledge that he had one of the best records on grass among active players? Well, already this year he had claimed his 50th win at Wimbledon, his 100th win on grass, his 21st quarter-final from the last 22 Majors, and more Grand Slam matches than any other British man.
It certainly started well for Murray and the Centre Court crowd. An overcast sky suddenly cleared to clear blue as the sun made an all-too-rare appearance at Wimbledon. What’s more, Murray broke to take an immediate 2-0 lead courtesy of a double fault, but an aggressive Berdych managed to grab the break straight back.
The Czech was certainly trying to take the initiative, serving big and coming to the net at every opportunity. He did so 14 times in the first set alone, and by the end of the second, he had made 23 points from 33 forays.
But after that initial break back, he could not get a toe-hold against the all-court guile and mix of power and touch the Murray wields. The Briton broke in the eighth game and closed out the set, 6-3, with an ace.
Both men held love games early in the second set, before Murray began to run Berdych ragged again in the fifth game. His infamous drop-shot-lob combo got Murray to deuce, but he could not convert two break chances.
Berdych turned the tables, and Murray came under pressure through a long sixth game of five deuces and two break points. Murray’s extraordinary powers of defence, and ability to slot returns through the eye of a needle, kept things on serve and, as so often happens after failing to make a breakthrough, Berdych wavered, Murray broke, and broke again with a forehand pass, 6-3.
It took him four games to get the breakthrough in the third, and that was enough. He served out the match, 6-3, in a shade under two hours, having made just nine unforced errors in the match.
The statistics pointed to a hyper-aggressive game-plan from Berdych—44 net approaches and 32 winners—but the down side was 30 errors. But this convincing win more about the determination and focus of Murray, now into his 11th Grand Slam final—more than any other British man.
He afterwards referred to his age and experience: “The older you get, you never how many chances you’ll get to make a Grand Slam final.”
He may one day feel what it is like to stand in Roger Federer’s shoes, who came within touching distance of setting a replay of Murray’s first final here.
Whether Federer will come as close again as he contemplates his 35th birthday only time will tell, but if Murray endures as long, he will surely have many more finals of his own to contemplate.
For now, though, the home favourite promised to keep the routine just the same as ever: media, physio, ice-bath, and eventually home for some relaxation, a bit of TV, and a quiet day tomorrow. And come Sunday, he will be ready to meet Milos Raonic for the fourth time this year.
In Australia, it was desperately close, as it was at Queen’s last month. Don’t expect this to be any different.