Berdych barely a bump in road for imperious Murray

It is strange to think that Tomas Berdych used to have Andy Murray on toast a few years ago

Published: 09th July 2016 08:50 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th July 2016 08:50 AM   |  A+A-

Britain Wimbledon Ten_Mukh (2)

Andy Murray of Britain returns to Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic during their men's semifinal singles match on day twelve of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London. |AP

British tennis fans might have experienced a sense of strange foreboding last night as they waited for the inevitable crisis to show itself. But no. Andy Murray was through to the final of Wimbledon, brushing past Tomas Berdych in straight sets, and there was no steward's inquiry, no injury scare, no alien invasion.

If it all seemed too good to be true, that was probably because this is an unprecedented situation. In his 41 previous grand-slam tournaments, Murray has beaten the other members of the "Big Four" a handful of times, but he has never seen them all eliminated by other players. Neither has he been the last member of the pack still standing.

But having scored a comfortable 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 win over Berdych yesterday, Murray will have to scratch another itch tomorrow - Milos Raonic, that is. Which represents another first. Perhaps this is British bias, but it feels as though no player can have been as unfortunate with his opponents in major finals.

Now, after Roger Federer (three times) and Novak Djokovic (seven times), Murray faces a newbie. Yes, the man who describes himself as "the CEO of Milos Raonic Tennis" has developed a multi-dimensional game to complement his cannonball serve. But whichever way you look at it, this is the best opportunity Murray has ever had to snatch a grand-slam title. He will expect himself to capitalise.

Still, the forecasts can wait a -moment. Our first duty must be to salute Murray's bloody-minded brilliance against Berdych yesterday. The pressure can only have -escalated when Federer exited in that dramatic five-setter earlier in the afternoon, leaving Murray as the only man in the draw with a major to his name. But he came out strongly from the start, breaking Berdych at the first opportunity and committing just a single unforced error - an overcooked backhand - in the whole of that first set.

Berdych, by contrast, was spraying the ball like a rogue fire hose. It is strange to think that he used to have Murray on toast a few years ago, using his piledriving forehand to administer a series of bruising beatings.

He hits the ball at an average of almost 80mph off that side, some 5mph faster than Murray. But power is nothing without control, as the famous Nike ad once had it, and across the whole of this 118-minute match, Berdych coughed up more than one freebie point per game.

As tennis fans, we spend our time watching the players' hands. But the professionals will tell you that matches are more often won with the feet, and this was the greatest contrast yesterday. Murray's size 12s tapped out a rapid tattoo on the turf, a roll of a snare drum, as he ran down countless lost causes. B-erdych's strides seemed heavier and slower, landing with the -ponderous effect of the Rank gong.

Berdych was particularly vulnerable coming out of his serve - a chink that Murray exploited with his extraordinary ability to hit the return from inside the court. As soon as Berdych missed his first serve, Murray moved two steps forward and rammed the ball back with depth and intent. This has been his Unique Selling Point this year - the advantage over the field that has now carried him to his third straight grand slam final.

For purposes of comparison, Murray has won 36 per cent of his return games so far this fortnight, whereas the figures for the other semi-finalists stood at 26 per cent for Berdych, 19 per cent for Federer and 14 per cent for Raonic.

That advantage will need to be fully capitalised on in the final, because if Murray has the best return stats, Raonic has been the leading server, racking up 137 aces and dropping serve only five times.

Yes, Raonic might be fortified by John McEnroe's presence in his camp - even if McEnroe preferred to commentate from the BBC box yesterday than join his fellow coaches Carlos Moya and Riccardo Piatti. But he is a man Murray has already taken down three times this season, first in the Australian Open semi-final and then most recently in the Queen's Club final.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Murray outlived an era yesterday. It is extraordinary to think that he made his grand-slam debut here at Wimbledon in 2005, in the first tournament of what proved to be a 21/2-year spell of domination by -Federer and Rafael Nadal. Then, in the first month of 2008, Novak Djokovic joined the party with the first of his six Australian Opens.

This cabal, this closed circle, have run tennis to such an extent for the past 10 years that it feels like a breach of free-trade principles. Yet time catches up with everyone in the end. Nadal missed Wimbledon because of an inflamed wrist -tendon, Federer ran out of gas in his second successive five-setter, and Djokovic admitted that he had -never arrived in London feeling as exhausted as he did this year.

Murray, meanwhile, is in a good place, to put it mildly. He has his five-month old baby daughter to play with, his wife Kim at his side, and his coach Ivan Lendl to calm his wilder moments on the court. If he finishes this tournament with the same intensity he delivered in the 2013 final here, we could be about to witness another flurry of Lendl-induced success.


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