Wimbledon: Andy Murray targets final Britain has longed for
It has been 74 years since a British man reached the Wimbledon final and 76 years since a British man lifted the ultimate prize, but Andy Murray will not let such thoughts cloud his mind as he prepares to face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semi-finals here this afternoon.
"When I think about Wimbledon and how long it has been since a British winner it is obviously surprising, a bit shocking too," Murray said. "But I'm very selfish when I think about Wimbledon. I really try to make sure that I want to do it for myself."
In the Open era only two other British men have reached Grand Slam singles finals – John Lloyd lost in Melbourne in 1977 and Greg Rusedski in New York 1997 – but Murray is one win away from playing in his fourth, having lost at the US Open in 2008 and at the Australian Open in 2010 and last year. Fred Perry was the last British man to win a Grand Slam singles title (the US Open in 1936) and the last British man to win Wimbledon (1936). Bunny Austin was the last to reach the Wimbledon final (1938).
Although Murray has not been thinking over the last fortnight about Britain's long wait for a champion – "If I did it might not be beneficial, especially at this stage of the tournament" – he has at other times of the year, especially when visiting an empty Centre Court during a break from practice sessions.
"When I sit out there on the court by myself, I'm thinking about the history and the matches that have been played there, so that I understand how important it is and so I know that when I come here I don't want to waste the chance by playing a stupid match or not acting right or not preparing properly," he said.
Today Murray will hope to feed off the support of his home crowd. "When you get out on the court, that is where you get all the benefits and that is where all the positives are," he said. "That's where the positives of home support come in. The build-up is hard and all the other things that go with it make it tough, but when you're on the court that's where you see all the positives."
Murray takes encouragement from his form here after victories over Nikolay Davydenko, Ivo Karlovic, Marcos Baghdatis, Marin Cilic and David Ferrer.
"This year has been one of my toughest draws, so I've had to play some of my best tennis to get here," he said. "At the Australian Open this year I didn't have to play so well because the guys I played against were shattered, but this time it hasn't been like that. It's been very tough. There have been tough matches against different types of players as well. My game should be in a good place going into the semis."
Murray lost to Rafael Nadal at this stage in 2010 and last year. Today represents his best chance of reaching the final since his first semi, in 2009 against Andy Roddick, who went on to push Roger Federer in the final.
Tsonga has reached the semi-finals for a second year in succession – he lost to Novak Djokovic last year after beating Federer – and has enjoyed the best run of his career in the last 12 months. The 27-year-old Frenchman has worked without a coach since last April but in that period he has reached six finals, winning three.
The world No 6, nevertheless, usually brings the best out of Murray. He has lost five of his six matches against the Scot, including the last four. A fine grass-court player, Tsonga has a big serve and likes to come forward, while Murray has one of the best returns of serve and likes to have a target to attack at the net.
"Andy's one of the players I don't like to play because he's returning really well and he can play some really good passing shots," Tsonga said. "He's really quick. He's on the ball all the time, so he's tough for me."
While Tsonga believes the pressure is always great on Murray as Britain's only major contender – France has four men in the world's top 20 – he said that he always enjoyed playing against a home favourite.
"I remember at the US Open I played against Mardy Fish in a tight match," he said. "It wasn't easy, but I won."
Guy Forget, until recently Tsonga's Davis Cup captain, thinks there is little to choose between the two but says Murray has been more consistent.
"Jo's serve has always been there and can save him, particularly on grass," Forget said. "I don't think he's tired at all. Physically he's fine and mentally Jo likes these kind of matches. That's what makes him different from the other French players, I guess. That is why he is so high in the rankings, because he lives for these kind of matches. He is not afraid of going out on the court, not afraid of what will happen if he loses."
Murray v Tsonga: Key past matches
2008: Australian Open 1st round: Tsonga won 7-5, 6-4, 0-6, 7-6
Murray had begun the year by winning the title in Doha but Tsonga caught him cold in Melbourne. The Frenchman went for his shots and was particularly punishing on Murray's second serve. It was the Scot's only defeat in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament since 2006 and his sole loss to Tsonga.
2010: Wimbledon Quarter-final: Murray won 6-7, 7-6, 6-2, 6-2
Tsonga, serving superbly and hitting his forehand with great power, became the first player to take a set off Murray at the tournament before being worn down by the all-round excellence of the Scot's game. As the match wore on Murray increasingly turned heroic defence into thrilling attack.
2011 Queen's Final: Murray won 3-6, 7-6, 6-4
Attacking the net and going for big shots, Tsonga dominated early on and was within five points of a win when Murray served at 5-5 and 30-40. Murray then took charge, his confidence highlighted by a through-the-legs half-volley that took him to 5-3 in the final set.
Overall It is 5-1 to Murray and 2-0 to Murray on grass.