Andy Murray showed his class by overcoming a stern test from Milos Raonic to book his spot in the final of the Australian Open courtesy of a 4-6, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 victory.
Twice Murray fell a set behind Raonic and twice he recovered to draw level before upping his game at the curcial juncture to secure the victory in five intriguing sets that lasted a marathon four hours and three minutes.
Playing in his first semi-final on Rod Laver Arena and just the second grand slam semi of his career, the 13th-seeded Raonic appeared in no way overawed by the occasion when he broke Murray to love in the opening game of the match. He would soon find himself 0-40 down in the game that followed, but Raonic did what Murray was unable to do and fought back to hold.
The man with the fiery orange shoes appeared to have ice in his veins.
The second-seeded Murray struggled to make inroads on the Raonic serve, with the serve and volley tactic paying dividends for the Canadian.
Raonic was firing down serves at a ferocious rate, but as one of the best returners in the game, Murray was getting something on it more often than most, he just couldn’t convert that into opportunities.
An ace down the ‘T’ at 230km/h secured the set for Raonic in 36 minutes.
Raonic’s error count began to rise as the second set progressed, with Murray gradually putting more and more pressure on the Canadian. Conversely, the Scot was reeling off service games with ease.
The pressure eventually told in the 12th game, with a fantastic forehand passing shot setting up a break point opportunity for Murray. He grabbed it with both hands, forcing Raonic to volley into the net to send the second set in favour of the world number two.
The third set was not the most inspiring of the match. Service games meandered away for much of the set, with neither player able to create openings. It was Raonic who started to make inroads though, racing to 0-30 out in the 11th and 13th games, but on both occasions Murray recovered to hold.
A tiebreaker was required to separate the pair and a feisty smash from the back of the court put Raonic 5-2 up. He moved to 6-4 and with two set points he only needed one, delivering a fierce ace to close out the set.
While Murray was shouting at himself and alternating between fist pumping and thigh slaps throughout, it was only in the fourth set that Raonic showed any emotion; his annoyance at what he percieved to be poor umpiring resulting in some foul-mouthed advice from the Canadian.
But while Raonic may have been annoyed with the officiating, he would have been even more annoyed with his failure to step up in the moments that mattered.
The seventh game proved to be the crucial one in the fourth set, with Murray breaking to love to go 4-3 up. But the moment was not yet lost for Raonic. The 25-year-old had two chances to break straight back, but fell short on both occasions.
With Murray serving out the set the momentum had well and truly shifted in the Scot’s favour and as any top player does when he has a foot on the opponent’s jugular, he pushed harder.
The wheels well and truly came off for Raonic when Murray broke to open the decider. Raonic’s racquet broke too, with the 13th seed’s calm demenaour lost in a barrage of blows to his racquet.
A second break made the match Murray’s, it was only a matter of when. He served it out to take the set 6-2, and with it the match in 243 minutes.
Murray will face top seed Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final in a repeat of the 2015 finale.
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