London: Andy Murray finds himself in the unusual position of favourite to lift a second Wimbledon title on Sunday with fate seemingly doing its best to make sure the British star captures a third career Grand Slam crown.
The 29-year-old world number two faces Milos Raonic, the first Canadian man to reach a final at the majors, in what will be the first Wimbledon title match since 2002 not to feature Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
It will also be Murray’s first final from 11 at the majors where he hasn’t faced either Djokovic or Federer against whom he has lost eight times.
And if Murray needed any more convincing that this will be the year when he adds to his 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon titles it’s seeing Ivan Lendl back in his coaching corner.
It was the Czech who oversaw the Briton’s triumphs in New York and London.
“It’s obviously an opportunity. I put myself in a position to try and win the event again. It’s against someone new that I’m playing against in the final,” said Murray after breezing past Czech 10th seed Tomas Berdych to reach his third Wimbledon final.
But the second seed won’t underestimate Raonic who reached the final by coming from two sets to one down to defeat seven-time champion Federer.
“Milos is a very tough opponent. He’s played very well on the grass this year and has earned his right to the final by beating one of the best, if not the best player, ever at this event.”
Djokovic, who beat Murray in the Australian and French Open finals this year, was knocked out in the third round of Wimbledon, his earliest exit at a major in seven years.
Nadal, a two-time champion at the All England Club, never made the starting line because of a wrist injury.
“It would mean a lot to win it again,” added Murray. “Again, these tournaments are why I’m still playing and why I’m training hard. That’s what really motivates me.”
Having faced Djokovic in seven major finals and Federer, who beat the Scot in his first Wimbledon final in 2012, in the other three, Murray will take a 6-3 lead in his head to head record with Raonic into the final.
He will be buoyed by defeating the 25-year-old on grass three weeks ago in the Queen’s Club final, 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 6-3.
Murray also came back from two sets to one down to beat the big Canadian in the semi-finals in the Australian Open in January.
Raonic packs the fastest serve of the tournament so far, sending down a 144mph (231.7km/h) ace early in the semi-final against Federer.
– Big serve -He saved eight of nine break points in that tie and boasts a tournament-leading 137 aces.
“Milos serves maybe a bit harder than guys like Ivo Karlovic and John Isner. He is better from the ground than both of those guys. Has probably a better return game, as well,” added Murray whose only real test at Wimbledon so far was needing five sets to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals.
Raonic has been taken the distance on two occasions — against Federer and coming back from two sets to love down to beat David Goffin in the third round.
“Andy is one of the premier workaholics,” said Raonic who was a beaten semi-finalist in 2014.
“I think Andy tries to get you doing a lot of different things. He’ll try to throw you off, give you some slower balls, some harder balls, all these kinds of things. I guess my goal is to keep him away from that, play it on my terms, be aggressive, not hesitate.”
In an interesting sub-plot to Sunday’s final, Raonic will have three-time champion John McEnroe in his corner for the last time.
McEnroe and Lendl were great rivals in their playing days when they met 36 times.
Murray believes 56-year-old Lendl has a crucial role to play while Raonic may not see McEnroe in his player’s box if the American has TV commentary commitments.
“I obviously had the best years of my career with him. I obviously wanted to work with Ivan again to try to help me win these events,” said Murray.
McEnroe hailed Raonic’s all-round game.
“Milos is a very intelligent guy. He uses the court like a geomtery equation. He knows were to position on the court and when to move forward,” said the American.