By Ros Satar at the ATP World Tour Finals, in London
- Andy Murray  def. Milos Raonic  5-7 7-6(5) 7-6(9)
- Breaks his own record set this week for the longest record ATP Finals best-of-three match (3 hours 38 minutes)
- Makes the final of the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time in his career
LONDON, ENGLAND – Running on fumes, Andy Murray reached the last two of the ATP World Tour Finals battling past Milos Raonic in an epic semi-final encounter.
While the ATP looks to put their ‘NextGen’ players front and centre from next year, we are left to ponder the fate of the ‘Generation Lost Boys’. If we excuse Marin Cilic from detention for winning the US Open in 2014, we look to Milos Raonic who made his slam final debut this year. Across the net was the man who had thwarted him at every turn in London – Queen’s champion, Wimbledon champion Andy Murray.
Raonic plays a big heavy ball but at times that strength seems the very root of his fragility. The strain his powerful game puts on his limbs has seen the Canadian deal with injury at every turn of his career.
He has come a lot closer this year. He had Murray on the ropes completely at the Australian open, and he gave the Brit pause in the final of Queen’s but somehow, Murray’s terrier-like approach gets the better of him.
With Murray starting with a statement hold to love, the real test was to come – would Raonic be blowing Murray away with his serve. The Brit got on the end of them, but the arm was warming up. In fact the Canadian got the first sniff of a break point against the Murray serve, but could not convert.
He was looking the sharper of the two, forcing Murray to defend to the hilt in a 12 minute game, and yet still there was no way through for the Canadian. His chance came with a truly horrific game from the World No, 1 which left Raonic serving for the first set.
There will have been some very unwelcome memories of the final at Queen’s as Raonic went a break up before the first sit-down but Murray dug deep to break straight back. Try as he might though, he could not convert on two golden opportunities to take the lead earlier in the second set.
Somehow, implausibly the pair traded blows with nary a break point in sight for a tie-break. First blood went to Murray but his 5-3 lead went awry as Raonic got the mini-break back. The tiniest if momentum shifts went the Brits way – his season was not over quite yet.
With both players taking a break before the decider it was key to keep what little momentum on his side, but it was Raonic that was looking to pressure more at the start, failing to convert on two break point chances.
Danger was never far away – a lacklustre start to the eighth game put Raonic 0/30 ahead with but dig out a hold, Murray did to put the pressure on Raonic once more to head to the changeover with a lead.
The pressure told – Murray broke to love to take the lead in the decider for the first time. Nip and tuck exchanges in the game put Raonic back in contention with two break back points and an inadequate lob was decisively put away for the Canadian to even things up at 5-5. No sooner as he earned his advantage – a combination of a double fault and a net big enough to catch a whale handed the break advantage back to Murray as they galloped towards beating the newly set record of the longest match in ATP Finals history (Murray v Nishikori, 2016 3 hours, and 20 minutes).
For the second time of asking, Murray stepped up to serve for a place in the final. With Raonic rapidly pressed to go up 15/40 – a tired looking forehand giving Raonic another break and a final tie-break to decide it.
Momentum swinging does not even begin to do the tie-break justice, Murray looked in control at 5-3 and the twists and turns from that point would make an Olympic Slalom course look like a kiddie slope.
Three match points for Murray came and went, and kudos to Raonic for stepping up and clawing his way level. He had a match point and it was Murray’s turn to thwart him.
Finally – on the fourth match point, the net caught a Raonic forehand for the last time – at 3 hours and 38 minutes Murray broke his own record from just three days ago (although if the truth be told we are not sure we would want to brag about that too much).
It is perhaps a bitter pill now for Raonic to swallow, but for a year that started with injury, he knows he can push the players ranked at the top of the game well.
He said, after the match: “I think they dealt better with the opportunities. They maximised better on those opportunities. They’ve been here many more times than I have. They’ve been in those situations many more times than I have.
“I think in both matches I had more breakpoint opportunities, I had more chances. Obviously it can go both ways. But I have to be very proud that I gave myself opportunities, great opportunities, against both of them for the first time this year.”
Having lost to Murray as the No. 2 twice and now as the No. 1 the Canadian added: “Regardless or not if they play tomorrow, if not obviously Andy’s still the best player in the world of 2016. There’s no question about it.”
Murray agreed in part to the importance of experience, although cautioned that it times that might also work against you.
He said: “Experiences can help in some ways and can be negative in some ways, as well. Maybe you know sort of the right shots to play, but you’re more aware of the consequences of making those shots and also missing them, as well.
“Especially towards the end of the matches, you know, sometimes the young players in those situations, they sort of go for shots without thinking. I think as you get older, the tendency is to think a little bit more.”
Obviously having broken his own longest-game record this week, there is a question of how quickly and effectively he can ready himself for tomorrow evening’s match. But there is an additional factor to consider as well, as he explained:
“It wasn’t just that it was physically hard, it was mentally a tough match, too. It was pretty stressful.
“I was quite far behind obviously in the second set. A set and a break down, managed to turn it round. Then it was back and forth in the third set. The physical side, obviously the body is a bit sore after such a long match, but mentally it was tiring, too.”
The final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals will take place at 6pm GMT.
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