Murray battles his way to final
Andy Murray became the first British player in 74 years to reach the men's singles final at Wimbledon with a dramatic fourth-set victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
For two sets it looked like the Scot would have no trouble consigning 1938 runner-up Bunny Austin's name to history, but Tsonga fought back and it was with relief and delight that Murray sealed a 6-3 6-4 3-6 7-5 victory.
The 25-year-old will face Roger Federer in tomorrow's final, looking to win his first grand slam title at his fourth attempt and become the first home player to lift the men's singles trophy at Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.
He broke down in tears on court, before pointing to the skies as has now become his post-match ritual, and admitted afterwards to just being glad to have made it through.
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"There's a bit of relief, excitement. It's tough to explain, it was such a close match," said Murray last night.
"Both of us had chances. I was up a break, he came back, then he had break points at 4-4 in the fourth and I managed to hang tough enough."
The match ended amid high drama, with a cross-court forehand from Murray being referred to a Hawk-Eye challenge before the win was confirmed.
"I knew it was in. I thought he challenged – they said it was called out, so I challenged," he added.
"I had started the match really well, served well, but he came back, started serving better and hit some great volleys. I did well to hang in because he started to play really well."
On having carried the hopes of a nation with him throughout the tournament, Murray also conceded to having felt the strain on court.
"It's just difficult. There's a lot of pressure on the court, a lot of stress, but you need to think about the next and not what has happened in the past," he said.
"It's been a great tournament so far and hopefully I can go one better. It's just a big relief. It was a very emotional end to the match – one of the biggest matches of my life.
"I have played Roger in finals before and need to learn from them. He's playing great tennis and I'm very excited."
There was no doubt the Scot went into the match as the favourite having beaten Tsonga in five of their six previous meetings, including in the quarter-finals here two years ago.
The Frenchman, though, has been a consistent improver and beat Federer in the last eight at Wimbledon 12 months ago from two sets down, the first man ever to do so against the Swiss at a grand slam.
Murray began confidently and aggressively, and made the best possible start with a break in Tsonga's first service game, nailing a backhand down the line.
The Frenchman had started slowly but he began to find his form and forced Murray to save two break points in the fifth game, which he did with aplomb and then fired down two aces to move 4-1 ahead.
And he held his advantage to take the set, bringing up set point with a crunching forehand down the line and then clinching it with a simple winner.
At that stage, it was a far cry from the extreme tension of Murray's four-hour win over David Ferrer on Wednesday, let alone his previous semi-finals here against Andy Roddick and Rafael Nadal.
Only Tim Henman has ever lost his first four semi-finals at the All England Club, and Murray wanted to keep it that way.
The fourth seed's serve, such a weapon all fortnight, was again proving a reliable ally, and he was also getting plenty of balls back in play off the Tsonga delivery.
The Frenchman's serve had only been broken four times in the tournament before this match, but Murray got his reward for more excellent play in the fifth game of the second set, moving 3-2 ahead when Tsonga drilled a forehand wide, and once again a single break was enough.
The statistics showed just what a superb performance it had been from Murray.
In the first two sets he hit 21 winners and made only four unforced errors, while Tsonga won just two points against serve in the whole of the second set.
It was all too easy, this was a Wimbledon semi-final after all, and victory seemed a little further away when Murray's level dropped for the first time in the second game of the third set and Tsonga broke to love.
The 27-year-old was throwing everything he had at Murray, and, although he missed a chance to move 4-0 ahead, his serve was working very well now and he denied his opponent a break back.
Murray had lifted his game again but the damage was already done and Tsonga took the set despite being momentarily felled by a shot from his opponent drilled right into a delicate area.
A shout of "New balls please" from someone in the crowd caused much mirth, although Tsonga was not laughing.
The start of the fourth set was huge for both players, and it was Murray who made the first move, breaking for a 3-1 lead and moving to within touching distance of the final.
Tsonga was not done yet, though, playing some stunning points to break back immediately. Tsonga was the last Frenchman to beat Murray at a grand slam, in the first round of the Australian Open in 2008 when he went on to reach his first grand slam final.
A second final for Tsonga was still a long way away though, and Murray had two points for a 5-3 lead when his opponent, who had volleyed so well, dumped a regulation ball in the net.
He could not take the chances, though, twice ending up on the grass, first through a slip and then a diving volley that landed wide.
It was a big chance, and Murray knew it. Suddenly he looked tight, and Tsonga brought up two break points of his own.
The fourth seed was not helped by a poor line call on a big first serve but his opponent charitably blazed two shots over the baseline and again Murray held on.
The winners had dried up, but Murray piled on the pressure with Tsonga serving at 6-5 behind, moving to love-30, and soon he had two match points when the Frenchman netted a volley.
There was a deafening roar inside Centre Court, and Murray looked to have taken his chance with a brilliant forehand return.
Dramatically, it was called out, but HawkEye showed it to be in and the Scot, almost overcome with emotion, looked up at the sky as he took in his achievement.