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Beyond the Baseline

The complex world of Andy Murray; Roger Federer hoarding records

Andy Murray became the first British man since Bunny Austin in 1938 to reach the Wimbledon final. (Zumapress)

WIMBLEDON, England -- Some thoughts on what was a banner day for Britain at the All England Club, as Andy Murray banished Bunny Austin's name from the record books and Roger Federer proves the perfect foil.

Win or lose, he's just Andy Murray: Andy Murray had just ended Britain's 74-year drought of producing a Wimbledon finalist with his four set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Wimbledon semifinals, beating the Frenchman 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. This was the first question he was asked in his press conference: "What were you doing 74 years ago?" But don't worry. It got substantive quickly. The third question volleyed his way? "What is the contribution of Maggie and Rusty (Murray's two pet border terriers) to this quest now for the Championship?"

This is Andy Murray's world.

Even when he wins, he loses. That's the story of Murray's career, a guy who's done everything in his power to bring Britain the win it so desires and craves, but put simply, the guy Britain just doesn't want. He's Scottish, not entirely effusive, and he plays a style of game that isn't as flashy or engaging as his compatriots. Next to the charisma of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, or even his opponent today, the ebullient Tsonga, Murray rarely looks like he's enjoying himself. And apparently that's a cardinal sin around these parts.

Murray's reaction upon winning match-point, which was held up due to an awkward Hawk-Eye challenge, wasn't a yell, a fistpump, or anything that could be described as an exultant joyful display. Nope. Murray collapsed into himself. He scrunched his face as if in pain, clenched his fist into his body, and bent at the waist in pure exhaustion. Because that's what it's like to be Andy Murray these days. Born into a golden era of tennis, he's the odd man out, constantly running up against the best and somehow being painted as an underperformer because of it. But the reality is that even if Murray's career ended today, he would go down as the best player in the history of tennis to never win a Slam. And when you're looking at the men who's stopped him time and time again, that's not exactly something to toss in the trash.

In his bid for his first Wimbledon final, Murray came out flying. Through two sets, Murray played exactly the way everyone has begged him to play, the perfect balance of defensive prowess and aggressive play. He hit 21 winners to a mere four unforced errors, overwhelming Tsonga from the outset and looking one step quicker to every ball. It was looking like it would be an easy roll for the Brit, but as it is with British culture, the excitement was tempered and, as it turned out, rightfully so.

After Tsonga left the court for a medical timeout to treat his ailing back, he was a completely different player. He bounded around the court (and into the court as a few reflex dives would allow) and completely turned the match on its head. There was the man who came back from two sets down to Roger Federer in the quarterfinals here last year, and don't think for a moment that match wasn't on the mind of every British tennis fan watching. With an array of monstrous hitting from the baseline and feather-light touch at the net, Tsonga roared back, riding an early break to take the third set 6-4.

As the tense fourth set unraveled it looked like Murray would unravel right along with it. After securing an early break in the fourth game, Murray was broken right back as Tsonga threw in a pair of one-handed backhand winners (why he chose to abandon his usual two-handed backhand hit them one-handed is for him to know and for us to constantly wonder about) to break and the tension mounted. I was in a room full of Brits and their silence spoke volumes: Surely he can't blow a two set lead, can he? Surely not.

But the right question shouldn't have involved Murray. It should have been about Tsonga. Surely he couldn't come back from two sets to love again, could he? No, he couldn't. As Murray served at 5-5, Tsonga had a complete mental lapse, hitting three horrible returns to hand Murray the game. The Frenchman had blinked and he couldn't recover. With the Centre Court crowd roaring in support, Murray broke for the match, ending it the only way Andy Murray could: dramatically. On match point he fired a forehand return that he thought was a winner but was called out. As the two stood at the net laughing (well, really, it was Tsonga who was laughing) Hawk-Eye revealed the ball had clipped the outside of the line. With that, relief.

So what would be the reaction of the man who broke a 74-year streak of losing? It was quiet, it was subdued, and it was private. Commentating for BBC, John McEnroe said he would have liked to have seen more emotion from Murray. Journalists accused him off not looking like he was having very much fun. But from Murray's perspective the job isn't done. Asked what coach Ivan Lendl said to him after the match, Murray said he kept it simple. "'Good job. You did really well. What time do you want to practice tomorrow?' That's it. There's no time for anything else."

So while the rest of Britain goes bananas over Murray Mania -- tickets to the men's final are reportedly going for upwards of £45,000 -- Murray said he will celebrate with a quiet dinner with his girlfriend and get back to work. Because the hard work, the support of the people who matter to him, and the world that has treated him as savior and Satan, is what's gotten him to this moment in the first place.

A tale of two overheads: Roger Federer keeps on re-writing the record books, as he advanced to his Wimbledon record eighth final at the All England Club, with a solid 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over the defending champion. Novak Djokovic has hit many memorable shots in his lifetime, and quite a few of them have come at the expense of Roger Federer. But the shot that will go down in memory from their semifinal match at Wimbledon (their first meeting at the All England Club) will be one that will haunt him for a while. Serving at 4-5, 15-30 in the third set, Djokovic looked like he was in complete control of a point that would have evened the score to 30-30. Federer floated up a short lob that should have been an easy overhead putaway for the Serb. Was it the roof? The lights? Too much time to think about things? Whatever it was, Djokovic sent it long to give Federer two set points for a two sets to one lead. Two points later, Federer converted his second set point and wouldn't you know it, he did it by crushing a difficult overhead. Djokovic never recovered, getting broken in his first service game of the fourth set and Federer ran away with it from there.

With that, Federer is one Andy Murray away from leaving Wimbledon with his 17th Slam title and the No. 1 ranking, a spot he hasn't held in over two years. Don't send that record book to print yet, boys. If he does get the No. 1 ranking here he'll tie and pass Pete Sampras for the most weeks at No. 1.
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