Andy Murray's quest for a second Wimbledon title remains on track after he survived a stern and gruelling test of his credentials in a memorable quarter-final meeting with former Davis Cup opponent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Wednesday evening (6 July). The world number two had won 12 of 14 previous meetings against the powerful Frenchman including all five contests on grass, yet had to work incredibly hard to triumph in five sets 7-6, 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1 on centre court.
A titanic first set lasting a total of one hour and 17 minutes promised a highly-competitive match, with Murray breaking to lead 4-2 only to go behind by losing three games in succession. It eventually progressed to an entertaining tiebreak, which he took 12-10.
Despite not showing the same sort of blistering form that saw Liam Broady, Yen-Hsun Lu, John Millman and Nick Kyrgios all brushed aside with ease, Murray gained the mental advantage and looked as if he was speeding to the finishing line by only giving up a single game en route to taking a 2-0 lead.
However, Tsonga, who had the look of a beaten man during that 6-1 thrashing and must have been feeling the pace after his epic clash with John Isner in round three, had other ideas and ensured a sizable momentum shift by becoming the first man to take a set off the Scot at SW19 this year.
Murray then engineered a break to take a seemingly crucial lead in the fourth, but failed to hold his own serve twice in a row and his opponent rallied once again to force a decider. In the first game of the fifth set, a battling Murray managed to save a break point on second serve before breaking himself to lead 2-0. He virtually guaranteed the match by taking Tsonga to deuce and then benefitting from a tired forehand into the net to snatch another break.
"It was a tough match," the British number one told the BBC after his latest win. "At the end of the fourth set it was really tough. To lose that set 6-4 was hard but I just tried to use all my energy at the start of the fifth set to get myself pumped up and the crowd and thankfully got the early break and managed to hang onto it.
"Tsonga is a pretty good player, one of the best grass-court players in the world and he came up with some great shots at big moments. He was returning better and he mixed it up well and credit to him for fighting back into match. It is always important to break in the fifth set, there is no tie break so it has to happen and thankfully I got it at the beginning and then to get the second one which takes away a lot of the pressure."
Murray will meet Tomas Berdych in his seventh Wimbledon semi-final after the latter easily overcame up-and-coming world number 30 Lucas Pouille. The 10th seed, who was runner-up to Rafael Nadal in 2010, took the first set on a tiebreak before confidently sealing a 7-6, 6-3, 6-2 win.
"I had to work hard for that. I was trying to find my rhythm in the first set and, once I did, afterwards the match was pretty straightforward," said Berdych, who had little chance to rest after closing out his nervy fourth-round victory over fellow Czech Jiri Vesely yesterday. He had already beaten Ivan Dodig, Benjamin Becker and Alexander Zverev.
Earlier in the day, seven-time winner Roger Federer overturned a two-set deficit and saved three match points before outlasting 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic 6-7, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3 in a thrilling contest. The stylish Swiss faces Milos Raonic next after the big-serving Canadian, watched by coaching consultant John McEnroe, defeated Sam Querrey, conqueror of Novak Djokovic, in four sets 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.
Both men's semi-finals are on Friday, with the women's singles taking centre stage once again tomorrow. The Williams sisters remain on course to meet in the tournament showpiece for the first time in seven years as reigning champion Serena takes on Elena Vesnina and 36-year-old Venus, Wimbledon's oldest semi-finalist since 1994, battles Australian Open winner Angelique Kerber.
Andy Murray's older brother Jamie, meanwhile, will not compete for the men's doubles title after he and Brazilian partner Bruno Soares lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 10-8 to French duo Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in a quarter-final match that lasted nearly five hours.