Andy Murray had a lot of friends at Queen’s on Saturday, none more loyal than the green stuff on which he teased Marin Cilic for just under two hours to reach the final of the Aegon Championships, where he will face Milos Raonic, who defeated Bernard Tomic 6-4, 6-4 in the other semi-final.
Lawn tennis is won as much with the feet as the hands, and Cilic, the 6ft 6in Croatian spent the first set of the first semi-final looking like someone had attached wheels to his shoes. But once he found his feet – literally – the 2012 champion and 2013 finalist helped make this a memorable match.
Murray said courtside after wrapping up a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win: “There were some really good points in there. Marin plays really well on the grass here. In the third set the intensity got raised a level. I got a little fortunate on some shots. On this surface, the serve is an important shot. Hopefully I can serve like that tomorrow. It’s great to get to the final again.”
If he wins it, he will be the king of Queen’s, owner of a record five titles. “There have been many great players here over the years,” he reminded the fans on a cloudy afternoon, “and yesterday there was the presentation here for John McEnroe, Lleyton Hewitt, Boris Becker and Roy Emerson, who all won four titles.”
The early tumbles were as comical as they were dangerous, of course, and Cilic was not amused as he repeatedly stuttered when setting off to hunt down ground strokes that Murray put wide or dinked short.
Murray broke early and cruised through the first set in 36 minutes, with nary a care. But he would become agitated soon enough, upset with a few dubious line calls. He had used all his three challenges for the second set after only three games, and was thereafter reduced to gesticulating to the chair umpire about line calls he considered wrong.
There was a spurt of classy shot-making from Cilic in the third game of the second set, and Murray needed a couple of big serves and a sumptuous forehand down the line to hold.
It was at this stage of his quarter-final against Kyle Edmund on Friday that Murray also lost focus and it took him a while here to rediscover the calm and control of the first set. The frustrations would not ease, though, and Cilic forced a wayward forehand out of him on the run to break for 4-3.
Murray got a look in the next game, but Cilic – more accustomed to the surface now – held with his fifth ace, and Murray went to the service line muttering to himself: “Don’t worry about it.”
Desperation brought out the best in the Scot, a leaping backhand volley a highlight, alongside a gorgeous crosscourt forehand and an ace as he held to stay in the set.
What he did not need, or want, was a third frame, but Cilic, his serve now humming, levelled.
Cilic had never come from a set down to beat Murray in their 12 matches, but he was giving himself every chance with a string of glorious shots to all parts of the court. The level on both sides of the net was pleasingly high, and it would come down to who could maintain the intensity and quality longest.
As he has done so many times in the past, Murray found the game to confound Cilic, despite a first double fault of the match, and raced to a 3-0 lead with almost indecent urgency. It was a carbon copy of his performance against Edmund.
Significantly, in this set and through most of his best patches in the match, Murray turned the volume down to almost inaudible in his self admonishment, and there were good reasons to be content. He lost only two points on his serve in the final set, hitting an impressive 80% of first serves into the box, which proved too much for Cilic, whose own dangerous serve dropped to a vulnerable 44%.
Cilic had the ball in hand for the last time in what had been a hugely entertaining contest, and saved match point with his eighth ace. Murray hauled through five deuce points, forcing him to save for a second time as the game went into its ninth minute. Cilic held with a wonderful passing shot down the line.
The first point of the final game was extraordinary, for resilience, class and the killer finish: a Murray forehand that drew a final losing lunge from Cilic. He struck his 14th ace for three match points, and a 15th to wrap it up. That’s the way to win a tennis match.
Murray is gathering in confidence as Wimbledon approaches and this was just the sort of workout he needed. He will probably not meet many better foes in the first week at the All England Club.
In Halle, meanwhile, there was a very significant result indeed for Alexander Zverev, who scored the win of his young career when he outlasted Roger Federer, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 6-3 to reach Sunday’s final. The German is 19 years and 59 days old. The last player younger than him to beat Federer – who turns 35 in August – was Rafael Nadal on his 19th birthday at Roland Garros in 2005. Murray, also, was still a teenager when he beat the Swiss in Cincinnati the following year.
This was Zverev’s first win against a top 10 player. It almost certainly will not be his last. His opponent on Sunday is not, however, the one the tournament would have loved, Dominic Thiem, whose charge into the top 10 this season has been the talk of the Tour. Instead he will play the German Florian Mayer, who is ranked 192 in the world, and took a little over an hour to upset the 22-year-old Austrian in two sets on Saturday.
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