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Andy Murray was cheese to Milos Raonic's chalk, but it took five sets and more than four hours to arrive at a scoreline to tell them apart in Friday night's semi-final, and even then it wasn't style or strategy that told, but an untimely groin injury to the Canadian. The final reckoning was 4-6 7-5 6-7 6-4 6-2.
Murray ousts Raonic in five sets
Andy Murray defeated a valiant Milos Raonic to set up a dream final against Novak Djokovic.
Murray spared a sympathetic thought for Raonic on the way out. "He definitely slowed down in the fifth set, for sure," he said. "It was unfortunate for him. He was struggling with his moment and his serve a little bit. I obviously got a bit lucky with that."
So the final will be between Nos 1 and 2 in the world. But Murray might have ended the night wondering two things. How did Raonic get his forehand through security? And did it have to be Novak Djokovic again? He has played the Serb three times before in finals here and lost them all, and another to Roger Federer besides. Murray's only thought casting forward was that no one shot or strategy would beat Djokovic; everything would have to work.
Raonic would have asked himself why his body had failed him just as his remastered game was on threshold of its finest expression. Djokovic in his hotel room would have no question other than the whereabouts of the remote control. Tennis-wise, he has all the answers at the moment.
As many ways as there are to skin a cat, so there are to present at and play tennis. This match showed it. It was big server versus ace returner, baseliner versus net-rusher, flash versus frumpy, phlegmatic versus grumpy.
As expected, the fulcrum of the game was Raonic's relentlessly attacking disposition, such a rarity in the modern era. From the start, he played high in his court and hit the ball deep into Murray's, riding his serve and following his instincts. In AFL, it would be called a forward press. It was a given that he would make a preponderance of winners and errors. The question was how well Murray would deal with this in his baseline eyrie. It is, after all, his realm.
The first seven points of the match did not so much set the tone as act as a contrarian overture. All went against serve. Raonic broke Murray to luv, then fell 0-40 behind on his own serve before recovering to hold. Already, Murray was nattering away to himself about the injustice of it all. But points against serve would be much scarcer for the rest of the night.
Raonic would sustain that initial incursion to the end of the set, won ultimately on Raonic's challenge of a fault call that appeared to surprise both players when it succeeded.
In the second set, Murray finally got a fix on Raonic's serve, and it was he who by a small margin created the better openings. At last, in the 12th game, he made good of one, and with it won the set. The shape of the match had changed. Raonic was less able to get to the net, but Murray still had to work with almost surgical care around Raonic's forehand.
But chinks remained few and far between. In the second set, there were just three break points, in the third one. In the first six games of the third set, only one point was obtained against serve by either player. It was all high seas sailing then. At one stage, Murray won 19 service points in a row. Later, Raonic played seven successive service games for the loss of just two points. Startling all, Raonic outgunned Murray in the tie-break, from near and far. "He hit every first serve," Murray said. "It's frustrating when you don't have any say in the points."
In all aspects, the contest and contestants tensed. Raonic had treatment on one sore point, to wit his groin, and raised another with the umpire, and Murray had his aggravations, too, and gave them voice. A volley now might have been a shot or a release of angry and anguished words.
Inevitably, devils and gremlins crept in. Raonic suddenly and without warning lost his serve to love, then made an heroic but vain effort to wrest it back from Murray in the Scot's next two service games. For Raonic, the set became like the net, there but out of reach. It was all backcourt and backs-to-the-wall now.
In the first game of the fifth set, Raonic's groin and Murray's grip tightened. His serve, racquet and sangfroid all were broken, incurring a code violation. The mask had slipped at last. But the physical breakdown was more crucial than the mental. The Canadian continued to slug it out, reaching where and what he could, but Murray can put the ball out of range even of fit opponents. From Raonic's detour to the trainer's room, Murray won 11 of the 15 remaining games. It was anti-climactic.