For the first time since 2002, the men’s final at Wimbledon will not feature at least one of the three players who have dominated the greatest era in the history of men’s tennis. instead, without Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, opportunity knocks for Andy Murray and Milos Raonic in Sunday’s showdown.
For Murray, it is a chance to further his own legacy and add weight to the argument that this era has been about a “Big Four” rather than a “Big Three.” With a 2-8 record in Grand Slam finals, Sunday will be the first time that it won’t be either Djokovic or Federer on the other side of the net. For the first time he will be the favorite.
Djokovic, who has beaten Murray in the final of both previous Grand Slams in 2016, suffered a shock third-round exit at the hands of Sam Querrey. And it was then Raonic who quashed the prospect of an expected final showdown between Federer and Murray.
Over the course of five sets in the semifinal, the 25-year-old blossomed from potential Grand Slam contender to a genuine force to oust the 17-time Grand Slam champion. With Djokovic and Murray aged 29, Nadal 30 and Federer 34, Raonic can now put himself at the forefront of the next generation that has so far failed to dislodge the “Big Four.”
For Raonic this moment has taken time to arrive. Two years ago he was brushed aside in the semifinals at Wimbledon by Federer and then was hampered by injury for much of 2015. But this year has seen a keen improvement.
At the Australian Open he took Murray to five sets in the semifinals, suggesting he was getting ever closer to the big breakthrough he has long craved. He showed his growing quality on grass, too, reaching the final of the pre-Wimbledon tune-up event at Queen’s Club when he again pushed Murray the distance before ultimately coming out second best.
But just as Raonic learned from his two previous semifinal losses to get the job done at the third time of asking, he is now eyeing similar progression against Murray in 2016.
“He does a lot of things well,” Raonic said of Murray after his win over Federer. “I think the biggest challenge for me, which I felt is the thing I want to repeat itself the least from Queen’s is I got sucked into his game, I didn't play on my terms and thats going to be the most important thing for me.
“He tries to get you doing a lot of different things, he tries to throw you off. he’ll give you some slower balls, some harder balls, all these kind of things. My goal is to keep him away form that and play it on my terms, to be aggressive and not hesitate.”
Many have been eager to attribute his run to the final at the All England Club to bringing on three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe as a coaching consultant for the grass-court season. And Raonic, who has become the first Canadian man to reach a Grand Slam final, has no problem if McEnroe gets a large helping of credit if he comes out on top on Centre Court on Sunday.
“At the end of the day, I get to win Wimbledon, so who cares?” he said with a smile.
If Murray ends up victorious, another coach is also certain to be receiving a lot of praise. It was under Ivan Lendl, a man who won eight Grand Slam titles but lost another 11 finals, that Murray won his only two Grand Slam titles, including ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a male Wimbledon champion in 2013.
After a painful split two years ago, the pair reunited last month and the results have been immediate. After winning Queen’s, Murray has been almost faultless at Wimbledon, dropping just two sets en route to the final, both when allowing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga back into their quarterfinal before displaying great resolve to slam the door and claim victory. In the semifinals, the second seed suffered no complications in a straight-sets win over Tomas Berdych.
Murray is happy to cite the influence of Lendl, although while sharing the praise around his camp, which was led by Jamie Delgado after the departure of Amelie Mauresmo earlier this year.
“I don’t think its a coincidence [that reaching the final has come after the return of Lendl],” Murray said. “I obviously had the best years of my career with him. But there are other people that go into it as well. The rest of the team that’s working with me has helped get me into this position. There are no guarantees that i win on Sunday, obviously, but I wanted to work with Ivan again to try and help me to win these events, that’s the goal.”
Match Time: 9 a.m. EDT
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN