WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — The buzz around Centre Court gradually increased while Andy Murray inched closer to ending one of the longest waits in British sports.
A tennis crowd used to disappointments finally saw reason to believe, with the classic shouts of “Come on Andy” at Wimbledon over the last seven years coupled with the added encouragement: “You can do it.”
And, in his fourth attempt in four years, Murray finally did.
Murray became the first British man since 1938 to reach the Wimbledon final by beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 Friday, living up to the hype and expectations at home that seemed to get bigger and bigger with every year.
“I think subconsciously at the end of the match it was obviously very emotional,” Murray said. “Haven’t really been like that before in a semifinal match, so obviously it meant something to me and it was very, very important. There is obviously a lot of pressure and stress around this time of year.”
And that pressure isn’t gone just yet. It won’t be until Murray can become the first British man to actually win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.
That would mean beating Roger Federer in Sunday’s final, a task that might prove harder than Friday’s victory. Federer is a six-time Wimbledon champion who knows better than anyone in the game how to win on Centre Court. He beat defending champion and top-ranked Novak Djokovic to reach a record-tying eighth Wimbledon final.
Murray has lost to Federer twice before in Grand Slam finals, at the 2008 U.S. Open and the 2010 Australian Open — never winning a set.
“It’s a great challenge, one where I’m probably not expected to win the match, but one that, if I play well, I’m capable of winning,” said Murray, of Scotland. “If you look at his record here over the past 10 years or so, it’s been incredible. So the pressure that I would be feeling if it was against somebody else I guess it would be different. But there will be less on me on Sunday, because of who he is.”
Bunny Austin was the last home player to reach the Wimbledon final in 1938. Murray’s victory over Tsonga ended a streak of 11 straight losses for British players since then in the semifinals at the All England Club.
Murray had lost at that stage in the last three years, seemingly destined to regularly come up short just like some of his predecessors. Tim Henman lost four semifinals from 1998-2002 and Roger Taylor lost three from 1967-73. Mike Sangster in 1961 was the first Briton to even make the semifinals since Austin, but he lost as well.
For good measure, both Murray and the Centre Court crowd had to wait a few extra moments for the 74-year drought to end.
On match point, Murray sent a forehand return past Tsonga that landed on the sideline, setting off a raucous cheer from the crowd as Murray bent down clutching his racket and letting out a shout. But it turned out the ball had been called out, forcing Murray to challenge.
With both players waiting at the net, and the Frenchman laughing as he spoke to Murray, the Hawk-Eye reply system finally confirmed Murray’s victory, setting off another loud cheer and a standing ovation from the crowd. Murray gave Tsonga a hug, then dropped his racket and walked to the center of the court to receive the ovation, both fingers pointed skyward in his signature gesture.
On Henman Hill — where the crowds used to gather to watch Henman’s many near-misses but now flock to watch Murray — thousands of fans let out an equally big cheer, celebrating a moment that many had doubted would ever come.
“Murray did so well to finish that off in four (sets), because I don’t think anyone could have coped with a fifth set,” Henman said on the BBC, where he works as a commentator. “He’s got sort of one monkey off the nation’s back with the first finalist in 74 years, but I think a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. It seems like it could be destiny.”
Federer may have a thing or two to say about that, but for now at least, Britain has reason to celebrate. Even Prime Minister David Cameron weighed in, calling Murray’s victory “great news.”
“I’ll be watching the final on Sunday and like the rest of the country, will be getting right behind Andy Murray,” Cameron said in a statement. “I wish him the best of luck.”
Tsonga did, too. The Frenchman, who is also immensely popular with the Wimbledon crowd, said Murray deserved the place in the final, and that he hoped he’d be able to play relaxed against Federer.
“For me, there is no more pressure (on Murray),” Tsonga said. “He’s in the final. He did the job, I think. Now everything is a bonus, is positive for him. Now I’m sure he will play only for him and not for all these people.”
Murray said he will need the crowd support again on Sunday to have a chance to beat Federer — who is usually the fan favorite in every match he plays at Wimbledon.
“There’s obviously going to be nerves and pressure there for sure,” Murray said, “but I need to try and stay focused.”