A lack of experience wouldn’t appear to be an issue for Andy Murray when he competes in his 11th Grand Slam final at Wimbledon on Sunday. But the occasion will bring something that the world No. 2 has never before encountered: being a favorite in a Grand Slam final. For the first time it won’t be either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, two of the greatest players of all time, on the opposite side of the net, but instead first-time major finalist Milos Raonic. Murray will be expected to win his third Grand Slam crown and second Wimbledon title.
It is not only Murray’s pedigree that makes him heavily favored for the final. He has also been in superb form these past two weeks, not least in easing past Tomas Berdych ins straight sets in the semifinals. Only when letting a two-sets-to-love lead slip against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals to force a fifth set has Murray appeared remotely flustered. Otherwise, the 29-year-old, who in the past has been negative with his body language and too passive with his racket, has been focused and positive.
It would be hard not to conclude that the impact of returning coach Ivan Lendl is already being felt. It was Lendl, of course, who was with Murray when he won his two Grand Slam titles before they parted ways in March 2014. Lendl, who won eight Grand Slam finals as a player and lost 11, returned to Murray’s camp last month and immediately the pair tasted success by winning the Wimbledon tune-up event at London’s Queen’s Club.
It was Raonic who was the opponent in that final, and the Canadian even took the first set before Murray fought back to win in three. Raonic still struck a positive tone after defeat and his subsequent on-court comments now take on a prophetic ring.
“Hopefully we can have a rematch a couple of Sundays from now,” he said.
Laying out his ambitions is something that Raonic far from shies away from. Since emerging on the tour five years ago, the 25-year-old has made clear his goal to be the best in the world and to win tennis’ biggest titles. It was a mindset that was in evidence again ahead of his semifinal against Federer.
Raonic had suffered his biggest disappointment to date when being wiped off the court in straight sets by the Swiss great at the same stage of Wimbledon two years ago. While many players may have dreaded the prospect a rematch with the seven-time Wimbledon champion on Centre-Court, Raonic expressed his relish at getting a chance to avenge that 2014 loss and a ready acceptance that to get to the top he needed to beat the best.
His performance on Friday fully demonstrated that belief. After taking the opening set but then falling two sets to one down, Raonic was on the ropes and looking poised for defeat in the fourth set. But the sixth seed somehow kept himself alive, saving three break points that would surely have spelled the end before going on to take the fourth and fifth sets against the Centre Court favorite.
It was just another sign of the evolution of Raonic’s game in 2016. At the Australian Open in January, Raonic reached a second Grand Slam semifinal and put in a much better performance than his first, pushing Murray all the way to five sets. With an improved backhand, better movement and crisper volleying, added to his booming serve and powerful forehand, on Friday Raonic got over the line to reach a Grand Slam final for the first time, becoming the first Canadian man to complete the feat.
Raonic’s celebrations after downing Federer, though, were reserved. For him, a place in the final is just another step toward his ultimate goal.
Prediction: Murray has won the last five meetings between the pair, and his spectacular return game together with his excellence on both wings from the back of the court make him a favorite to beat Raonic once again on Sunday. To win, Raonic must serve at an extremely high level and judge his forays into the net expertly against a player who passes as well as Murray. If the home favorite gets flustered by his opponent’s booming serving as well as the pressure of being expected to win, then Raonic certainly has a chance. And it should be a competitive affair. But Murray looks to be a man on a mission at the All England Club. And he is unlikely to be denied getting his hands on the trophy once more.
Expect Murray to advance in four sets.
Andy Murray: 1/4
Milos Raonic: 3/1