Magnificent Murray ends title drought
Andy Murray's wait for a first title of the year is over after he battled back from a set down in scintillating fashion to overcome the suffocating presence of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Monday's rescheduled AEGON Championships final.
Murray had not reached a final since his Australian Open loss to Novak Djokovic in January, but a record of four semi-final appearances in his last five tournaments testifies to his recent upturn in form. He came across an opponent in Tsonga who smothered the net at every opportunity, forcing Murray to dig deep for a 3-6 7-6(2) 6-4 victory.
It was Murray who had dominated the pair's head-to-head record, winning four of five encounters, including a quarter-final triumph at Wimbledon last year. Tsonga had also never featured in a grass-court final, but his serve-volley game starved Murray of rhythm as he attempted to become the first French champion in the history of Queen's Club.
Even when Murray produced some of his best work, Tsonga answered with body-length dives to leave the British No. 1 cracking a wry smile. The feeling of "what do I have to do?" hung over the Scot until the second-set tiebreak, when Tsonga's focus finally escaped him for the first time, but on this form both men look set to go deep into the second week at Wimbledon later in the month.
The first five games went with serve on centre court, and there was an element of fortune allied to class involved in Tsonga's break of serve, after Murray's strings gave in on him for 0-30. Tsonga still had to capitalise though, and he did so first with a backhand passing shot down the line for 0-40 and then with a forehand winner onto the line, called successful upon review.
Only once in the first set did Murray get a look at the Tsonga serve, failing to convert three break points, and as Tsonga rushed the net again when serving for the set, Murray buried a forehand to allow his opponent control of the contest.
It was only the second set Murray had conceded all week, and he came out fighting upon resumption, roaring at the crowd to get himself going. The trademark variation was there with drops and lobs, but Tsonga is one of the few men who cover the court every bit as well as Murray. One particular point, when the Brit sent up what looked like a winning lob only to see Tsonga rush back, recover and eventually conquer, left Murray wondering what else he had to do to slow the French force.
No player in the past 25 years had beaten the top two seeds to take the title, but having defeated Rafael Nadal, Tsonga seemed determined to complete the job against Murray. Facing break point on four separate occasions when serving at 3-4, the world No. 19 pulled out three towering serves to frustrate Murray who, after punching his racket, pulled his fourth opportunity into the net as Tsonga held firm.
Next it was Murray's turn to face break points at 5-5, saving the first with a courageous drop shot before getting a huge slice of luck on the second as Tsonga clipped the net cord, sending the ball spinning vertically before dropping on the Frenchman's side of the court. It allowed the Brit one last look at his opponent's serve before the tiebreaker, and Murray surely would have broken but for two incredible diving winners by Tsonga that left the home favourite smiling in disbelief.
Instead it went to the pivotal tiebreaker, where Tsonga's radar suddenly betrayed him as he committed three wild unforced errors, prompting an eruption of noise from both Murray and the crowd as the match went to a decider.
The momentum, the belief, and the ideas all now belonged to Murray in the third and final set, and his 10th break point of the match proved to be a lucky one as he finally penetrated the Tsonga serve. The simplest of smashes sealed victory, in what will act as the ideal tune-up for Wimbledon.