Andy Murray will on Sunday spark a sense of deja vu for tennis fans, after he won through to his fifth Australian Open final, outlasting an injured and depleted Milos Raonic in five sets on Friday evening.
In what will go down as yet another semifinal to remember at the Melbourne Park, the second seed was pushed to the brink by the Canadian Raonic, before the 13th seed broke down with a persistent upper thigh injury which rendered him incapable of seeing out long rallies against one of the world’s premier baseliners, reports Xinhua.
For all his effort, the Canadian was at one point just nine points from victory in the fourth set, but his shonky leg — despite treatment throughout the match — proved to be the undoing of his perfect start to 2016.
Murray, who won the four hour and three-minute match 4-6, 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-2, advances to meet Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open decider, and even though the Scot is yet to win the tournament from four attempts, sets up a fifth chance at taking the crown.
The Raonic/Murray semifinal, dubbed the less interesting of the two, was always going to have to deliver in order to follow in the gigantic footsteps of the titanic one between Federer and Djokovic the previous night, but the two players with almost polar opposite games style delivered an almost modern classic.
Set for the set, the tussle between staunch defensive baseline and awesome serve and volley was at times mesmerising and thrilled the packed Rod Laver Arena crowd more than what they would have expected walking through the turnstiles.
Murray’s typical ability to bounce back and through adversity on the courts of Melbourne was vintage while Raonic managed — at times — to play out of his skin throughout the five-set affair with the world No. 2.
For moments, the Canadian looked like the complete player. However, inconsistency with his backhand and first serves cost him the second set.
Ironically his first serve percentage and backhand were two of the most important pieces of the puzzle for Raonic in the third, where he simply ‘out-Murrayed’ Murray, winning as many points as the Brit in long rallies that were entrenched on the baseline.
However, an injury to the Canadian’s leg shifted momentum in the fourth. Raonic was taken from the court to receive treatment between sets, only to return in what looked like a healthy state.
After trading holds in the early stages of the fourth, the Brit broke the injured Raonic to take a 4-3 lead. Raonic then threatened to break back immediately, but the failed attempt, in a game that lasted ten minutes, seemed to be the breaking point in the match.
The telling moment was the first game of the deciding set, with Raonic hitting a glaring double fault on a Murray break point — something which fully highlighted the lack of movement in the Canadian’s serve.
A racquet smash, followed by a code violation, was Raonic’s out-of-character way of expressing defeat. He said post-match that he was, if anything, frustrated with his body more than Murray’s dogged never-say-die attitude.
From the break, Murray then ran away with the match in typical, healthy, fit fashion, winning the fifth set 6-2 in 37 minutes.
Following the win, the world No. 2 said once he went two sets to one down, he managed to grapple the ascendancy mentally and then physically when Raonic started to break down.
“It was tough because I played well, but in the tie-break in the third set he didn’t miss one serve,” Murray said on-court.
“It’s frustrating but I started to get a better read on his serve as the match went on.”
“He definitely slowed down in the fifth which is unfortunate for him. He was definitely struggling with his movement and serve a little bit. You just have to focus on your side as much as you can.”
Murray now progresses to the final of the Australian Open, where he will meet world No.1 Novak Djokovic. Having lost to the Serb three times in the final already, Murray said preparing mentally as well as physically was paramount heading into the short turnaround on Sunday.
“A lot of things are important when you play against the best player in the world. I’ll need to execute my game plan very well, not have lapses in concentration and play the best match I can,” Murray said.
“He obviously loves playing on this court and we’ve had some good matches here. Hopefully, this time, it can be a different result.”
For Murray, a deja vu date with Djokovic awaits him on Sunday, while the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber will be played on Saturday evening.