Andy Murray has been there in a Wimbledon final before and has the experience of winning it in 2013. Yet, somehow this felt odd. In his previous 10 Grand Slam finals, the Scot always had to play the role of the underdog, having faced heavyweights like Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
This was the first time the 29-year-old Scot was the elder statesman, trying to block the rising new generation from snatching away glory from the already established contingent.
And he did that flawlessly, ebbing the flow of Milos Raonic’s natural game with perfection. It was the incredible returns and the backhand passes of the World No. 2 that chipped away at the sixth seed’s facade of confidence brick by brick.
And the result was there for all to see. In 2 hours 47 minutes, the Scot lay his hands on the third Grand Slam trophy of his career with a 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(2) win over the Canadian, who had stopped seven-time champion Roger Federer in the semi-finals.
With Ivan Lendl by his side once again, Murray was oozing with self-belief that had gone missing in his last two Major finals at the Australian Open and the French Open this year. The former World No. 1 was instrumental into evoking Murray’s inner conviction that led to three of the biggest moments of Murray’s career – the 2012 Olympic gold in singles, the 2012 US Open and the 2013 Wimbledon titles.
The eight-time Grand Slam champion’s return to the Scot’s box at the beginning of the grass season immediately reaped rich dividends for the World No. 2. He eked out a hard-fought victory over Raonic at the Queen’s final just a week before the Wimbledon Championships commenced.
That definitely set him up well for the all-important final at SW19. Murray came prepared and that showed.
There was no hesitation and no doubt in his mind. He knew his returns were valuable in breaking the serve and the spirit of the big-serving Canadian and that is exactly what he targeted. Moving the Grand Slam final debutant around, he simply goaded him into making the 29 unforced errors while he, himself committed just 12.
With pitch-perfect anticipation, the home hope had his first look at making in-roads into the Raonic serve as early as the third game of the first set. The 25-year-old, however, denied him that and held on for 2-1.
Murray finally found the breakthrough in the seventh game. A brilliant backhand pass left Raonic stranded at the net and then the Canadian helped his opponent’s cause with a forehand error.
Murray finally converted on his second break point and surged ahead 4-3 when the 6’5’’ player fumbled at the net. Raonic pushed hard in the next game and closed in to make it a deuce game but Murray brought fantastic first serves to consolidate the break. The World No. 2 exhibited his deft volleys to take the first set 6-4 in 40 minutes.
Murray’s serves played a critical role in his success in the opener – he had 78% first serves in and won 83% points on his first serve. If the Scot had everything to be proud about his serves, Raonic definitely needed to do much better. His dreaded serves had so far produced just a solitary ace.
Clearly, Murray’s returns were the biggest talking point of the match but Raonic started to polish his own returns a bit more in the second set. That, however, could not unsettle Murray and the 2013 champion calmly held on for 1-1.
With some more fabulous serving display, Murray held on for 2-2 and was yet to face a single break point.
It was once more the seventh game that became a crucial one even in this set. Murray conjured up a magical backhand pass from the forecourt to have a break point but this time, Raonic was more aware. He did not let Andy run away with the set.
By clocking up aces that had been missing so far, he wriggled himself out of the imminent danger and edged ahead for 4-3. His next service game proved to be even more tedious as he had to save a couple of break points to carve out a massive 5-4 hold. That freed him up and the set eventually headed to a tie-break.
But, after all the hard work, the sixth seed committed the cardinal sin of giving away a mini-break on the very first point in the breaker when he faltered on a volley. Murray pounced on it immediately. With his beautiful passing shots, Murray wasted no time in clinching the set 7-6(3) and along with it, took a huge leap towards his third Grand Slam title.
In the third set, it was the fifth game where the intensity and the drama picked up. Raonic’s dazzling inside-out forehands finally came alive and he had two golden opportunities to break the Murray serve. But the second seed’s incredible backhand passes, just like before, had the last word.
The Briton saved both break points much to the delight of the packed Centre Court and inched ahead 3-2. Both men then showcased their defensive skills in a tight eighth game as Raonic finished an excellent point with an inside-out forehand from the forecourt to level for 4-4.
Under pressure, the young Canadian produced a couple of clean service games, riding on his gigantic serves to force a tie-break.
If Raonic’s burgeoning fan brigade thought that was a glimmer of hope, then they were mistaken for Murray was a man on a mission. The unstoppable home favourite raced through the breaker to reach 6-2 and then sealed his second title on the hallowed lawns when Raonic’s backhand found the net.