• Wimbledon

Murray nightcap ends epic day

July 5, 2013
© PA Photos

This island nation lives (and sometimes dies) with Andy Murray's tennis results.

But on Friday, when the 26-year-old Scot finally walked onto Centre Court and into the fading sunlight, the capacity crowd - what was left of it - had temporarily lost its ability to feel much of anything.

They were still toweling off from one of history's epic matches, the longest Wimbledon semi-final ever, won in five sets by Novak Djokovic over Juan Martin del Potro in 4 hours, 43 minutes. Murray, through no fault of his own, was no longer the lead story.

Despite a truly heroic effort from 22-year-old Jerzy Janowicz, Murray was a 6-7(2) 6-4 6-4 6-3 semifinal winner. And this one was relatively swift, checking in at 2 hours, 51 minutes. Make that nine sets of splendid tennis on a single court in eight-plus hours.

"I just managed to turn it around," Murray said afterward. "Third set was huge, won five games in a row. I'm very happy."

Thus, the No. 2 seed will play the top-seeded Djokovic on Sunday in the long-anticipated final. Murray is seeking his second major, but he has lost 11 of 18 matches to Djokovic.

Murray saved six of the seven break points against him. Janowicz was 8-for-13.

If you haven't been counting at home, Murray has now reached the final of the past four grand slam events he's played: 2012 Wimbledon, 2012 US Open, 2013 Australian Open and Wimbledon again. The 26-year-old missed this year's French Open with an ailing back.

Murray has won 17 straight matches on grass.

Janowicz, the first men's Polish semi-finalist here ever, was attempting to reach his first grand slam singles final in only his fifth major appearance.

Four years ago, Murray and Janowicz played for the first time in a Davis Cup match at Echo Arena in Liverpool. Janowicz lost in straight sets, but he was only 18. Last autumn, at the Paris indoor, Janowicz won their second meeting in three sets. He hit 22 aces and won six of eight games in the final frame.

Friday's meeting was their third encounter and it was an unlikely pairing. Murray was playing in his fifth consecutive semifinal at Wimbledon; Janowicz was in only his second event here. He was a qualifier a year ago, and reached the third round. His run to the semi-finals left him with career mark of 7-1 - a better percentage than Murray's 35-7.

The first set followed a predictable trajectory - until Murray scored two set points in the 10th game. Janowicz, with two unreturnable serves, saved them both. Murray lived to regret that when Janowicz forced a tiebreaker and blew him off the court. The critical mass moment: At 4-2, the Pole hit a 117 mph second serve, then stepped inside the baseline and ripped a forehand cross-court winner. Murray, depleted, double-faulted to give Janowicz the first set.

The slumping shoulders, the radio silence of the crowd - it felt a lot like the quarterfinal match, when Murray lost the first two sets to Fernando Verdasco.

And then Murray broke Janowicz straightaway in the second set in a game punctuated with a double fault. That advantage held up only because Murray managed to save all four break points.

At this point, with the hour closing in on 8pm, local time, the lights started to come on inside Centre Court. The match seemed headed toward a conclusion under a closed roof. On changeovers, Janowicz , who can be a bit of a hothead, began complaining that it was too dark for him to see.

"Are we waiting for rain," he asked chair umpire Andrew Jarrett.

The second game of the third set featured two more break points for Janowicz, but Murray answered with a pair of aces. Murray did not save the next one; returning serve at 1-2, Janowicz ran to the net at 30-40 and sliced a sweet and subtle backhand volley for a cross-court winner. Murray answered with a cross-court winner of his own to get back on serve at 3-4. Back-to-back breaks effectively gave Murray the set, but not before Janowicz hit him at net.

And then, against the vehement protests of Murray, they closed the roof, which meant at least a 20-minute cooling off period for the players. This was not insignificant, because Murray had just won five games in a row.

Advantage, Janowicz?

Uh, no. Murray, after taking a shower during the break, broke him in the third game of the fourth set and closed him out with relative ease.

And so, you'll be hearing a lot about Fred Perry for the next 36 hours. He was the 1936 champion, and Murray is trying to end that 77-year drought of a British men's champion at Wimbledon.

While everyone in Great Britain aches for Murray to succeed at Wimbledon, there are few who can actually help him in his quest. One of them is Sir Alex Ferguson, the recently retired manager of Manchester United.

On Wednesday, following the Verdasco match, Murray had a good chat with Ferguson. They talked about handling pressure and expectations, and afterward, Murray called Ferguson's advice "gold dust," and it sounded as if he meant it.

Murray said this one felt markedly different than last year's semifinal victory.

"This year's been a little different, because I was expected to get to the final," he said. "Last year, I was very, very emotional. Today I was delighted to get to the final.

"Djokovic and del Potro played and incredible match today. We've played once on grass, here at the Olympics, and I beat him. I'll take that thought in when I play him on Sunday."

This article first appeared on ESPN.com

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