WIMBLEDON, England – Roger Federer is back in the Wimbledon final for the first time since 2009. If that seems like a long gap for the six-time champion, imagine how all of Britain feels: Andy Murray is the first man from the host country to play for the title at the All England Club in 74 years.
Both are playing for history.
Already the owner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles, but none in the past 2 1/2 years, Federer can equal two marks held by Pete Sampras with one more victory Sunday: seven Wimbledon championships and 286 weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings. So far 0-3 in major finals, without claiming even one set, Murray can become the first British man to collect any Grand Slam title since Fred Perry won Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1936.
Everyone loves Roger at Wimbledon, but a majority of people are going to want to see Andy win this time. ... They can inspire Andy. They can pick him up. But at the same time, they might make him feel like hes pulling all the hopes and dreams of a nation on his shoulders. Thats a lot to deal with, Sampras said in a telephone interview. And he has to play Roger Federer, so hell have his hands full.
After seeing his grip on the grass-court Grand Slam tournament slip away with a pair of quarterfinal losses the past two years, the third-seeded Federer reasserted himself by beating defending champion and top-seeded Novak Djokovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 Friday.
Djokovic or Rafael Nadal won the nine previous majors, and both surpassed Federer in the rankings. But after losing six of his last seven matches against Djokovic, all on clay or hard courts, Federer had the upper hand on grass, the first time in 27 career meetings theyve played each other on that surface.
People were like, How are we going to survive a Wimbledon final without you? Federer joked about his earlier-than-usual exits in 2010 and 2011. For me, it was no problem. I went on vacation and relaxed. Of course, it feels great to be in the Wimbledon final.
No need to tell that to Murray.
Not since Bunny Austin in 1938 had someone representing Britain won a mens semifinal at Wimbledon – until, that is, Murray hit a forehand return winner that clipped a sideline to eliminate No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. It was a thrill-a-minute match, with both players smearing their white uniforms with grass and dirt stains by diving for volleys.
After a replay review to make sure that last shot was in, Tsonga and Murray hugged. The Frenchman put his hand on the scruff of Murrays neck and they had a lengthy chat near the net. Then Murray sat in his sideline chair, tilted his head back and closed his eyes, the sounds of a raucous standing ovation ringing through Centre Court.
A big relief, Murray said. It was a very emotional end to the match. Ive just got to try to keep it together for the final.
He had lost in the semifinals each of the past three years, part of an 0-11 rut for British men in the final four. For decades, the locals who love their tennis dealt with the angst of seeing their players come so close, yet so far.
Hes got sort of one monkey off the nations back with the first finalist in 74 years, but I think a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, said Tim Henman, a Brit who lost in four semifinals from 1998 to 2002, twice to Sampras. It seems like it could be destiny.
Murray actually leads his head-to-head series with Federer 8-7. But Federer won their finals at the 2008 U.S. Open and 2010 Australian Open, the last time he was a Grand Slam champion.
Its a great challenge, one where Im probably not expected to win the match, but one that, if I play well, Im capable of winning, Murray said. I mean, if you look at his record here over the past 10 years or so, its been incredible.
Federer reached a modern-record eighth final at the All England Club. He turns 31 on Aug. 8, and would be the first man 30 or older to win Wimbledon since Arthur Ashe in 1975.
Im aware that the tournaments not over yet. I didnt break down crying and fall to my knees and thought the tournament is over and I achieved everything I ever wanted, Federer said. I want to try to play the best possible final I can.
Djokovic hardly resembled the guy who was so self-confident during the last 18 months, while picking up four major titles and compiling a 27-match Grand Slam winning streak.
He shrugged his shoulders, put his hands on his hips, shook his head.
Start of the fourth set, I dropped in the energy level, I thought, Djokovic said. I played really a couple of sloppy games, very slow, with no pace.
Afterward, the 25-year-old Serb said hed been feeling not so great, really for the past five or six days but wouldnt go into specifics.