LONDON — The weight and want of a Kingdom on his shoulders, the great Scot, Andy Murray, on Friday became the first male from the UK since Henry Wilfred “‘Bunny’’ Austin in 1938 to advance to the Wimbledon final, routing France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets and putting to rest one recurring nightmare that has played out for 70-plus years on the AELTC’s hallowed turf.
Could it be, as one Italian journalist asked Murray, if on Sunday perhaps Fred Perry, the last British master to win The Championships — in 1936 — might send him “a benediction’’ to help him beat Roger Federer for the title.
Stunned by the question, as if frozen on the baseline by one of Federer’s laser serves, the 25-year-old Murray could only offer a confused, “He’s not alive, though . . . I don’t understand.’’
The question restated, it made clear that perhaps the late Perry would send a fellow Great Brit a blessing from grasscourt heaven, a slightly more relaxed Murray shrugged and added, “Yeah, well, I hope so.’’
Be it his powerful right hand or the wisdom of the wind, Murray finally has a chance to move the discussion of British tennis to different ground if he can win Sunday. To do so, he’ll need even more game, as abundant as it was, than he showed against the entertaining but erratic Tsonga, whom he rubbed out, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.
After barnstorming to fairly easy victories in the first two sets, Murray struggled some in the next two after Tsonga took a brief respite in the dressing room prior to the third.
“You know, sometimes my back is blocked,’’ explained Tsonga, his English sometimes slow to develop in conversation, “and I have to unblock it. How you say that . . . unblock it? And, yeah, there is a table outside [the dressing room]. I go there and I do what I have to do — and then I come back and feel better.’’
His back stretched out, Tsonga came out swinging freely in the third, after not winning a single point with his second serves in set No. 2. But with kinks removed, he went from flatline to workhorse, scoring an impressive break to 2-0, allowing Murray but one point in his first service game. An impressive turnaround, considering Murray in the second set clicked off 17 straight points on serve over one stretch.
Serving at 5-3 in the third, Tsonga also withstood a menacing shot below the belt off a volley, briefly crumpling to his knees as an apologetic Murray stood at the net. His energy restored, he polished off the set with three straight points.
“Never,’’ smiled Tsonga, asked if he’d ever been hit like that during a match. “But I will have revenge one time.’’
Murray, the concern through the packed house now palpable, the Brits accustom to their men failing 12 times in semifinals since Austin succeeded in 1938, hung tough in the fourth. He broke Tsonga to gain a 3-1 lead, the match just more than two hours old, but then booted away the next game to allow Tsonga back in it.
The two battled even, Murray moving ahead, 6-5 on serve, the ball back in Tsonga’s hand for a chance to settle it on a tiebreaker. But the Muhammad Ali lookalike promptly fell behind, 15-40, and Murray won it on the first of two break points. Not that it was easy. Murray ripped a forehand smash to the left, a shot he knew was in, but it was called out.
History would have to wait. With a slightly hangdog look, Murray came to the net, face to face with Tsonga, awaiting Hawkeye’s video review. The affable Tsonga smiled wide, telling Murray he thought it was wide. But Hawkeye had it as good and the win was in the books.
“Obviously, it was close,’’ said Murray. “And then I thought he challenged it. Then the umpire said to me that the ball had been called out and that he hadn’t overruled it. So then obviously I challenged.’’
Now comes Murray’s date with the artful Roger. The kingdom waits. One tabloid report on Friday said a pair of Centre Courts seats on Sunday could run as high as $80,000. They’ve cried in their beer so long here that some are willing to pay the cost of a microbrewery to get in the gate.
It’s possible, based on murmurings around SW16, the Queen will be here to see it. She was here to make it official when the UK’s Virginia Wade won it in 1977.
“There’s a lot of pressure and stuff,’’ said Murray, noting the many big names who often fill the Royal Box. “But it’s obviously a privilege to play in front of those people. I’m not sure [the Queen] will be here Sunday, but it would be nice.’’
Queen or no queen, benediction or no benediction, decades of disappointment will be here on Championship Sunday. With racket in hand, Murray gets his chance to rewrite it.