For most of his career, Andy Murray has struggled to prove that he deserves to be put in the same category as Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
But in a strong performance over Djokovic at the Olympics on Friday, he got one step closer to solidifying himself as one of the greats. On Sunday, when he faces Federer in a rematch of this year's Wimbledon finals, he can certify it with a win.
After decisively taking down Djokovic 7-5, 7-5 in the Olympic semifinals, Murray faces Federer in the finals on the grass courts for the second time in a month—this time, with a gold medal on the line.
From the outset of Friday's match, Djokovic seemed lethargic while Murray came out of the gates eager and energized. Though it took a couple of games for the Serb to heat up, he managed to keep pace with Murray, who seemed intent on testing the Serb's quickness and flexibility with every point.
The two traded games throughout the first set and appeared evenly matched until Murray—perhaps buoyed by the vocal support of the home crowd—pulled away for a 7-5 win in the first set, bringing his audience to its feet.
From there, it would be all about maintaining composure—which Djokovic struggled to do, emitting a cry of frustration here and there and engaging in several lengthy dialogues with himself after too many bad bounces and missed opportunities.
Alternately, Murray—who's had trouble in the past staying focused against Djokovic and some of the other tennis elites—displayed uncharacteristic concentration and consistency, robbing Djokovic of any momentum he managed to scrounge up.
Once Murray grabbed a 6-5 lead in the second set, the gold-medal dream was all but officially over for Djokovic. Then Murray won the last game at love to send him packing.
After the 14th meeting between the two greats, Djokovic leads 8-6. The Serb's most recent three losses on the world's biggest stages have come against the rest of the top four in the world rankings: Murray, Federer and Nadal.
In the quarterfinals on Thursday, Djokovic was stretched to his limits by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second set but held on for a 6-1, 7-5 win and the right to face Murray.
He looked similarly out of sorts against the Brit one day later, where he took far too long to generate any momentum and had trouble sustaining it for long enough to trump his opponent.
Meanwhile, the semifinals match had massive implications for No. 4 Murray, who—ever since advancing to the Wimbledon finals last month—has forced himself into the dialogue about belonging to tennis' elites. A win at the Olympics will make his case even stronger.
You have to figure that Murray will have a slight edge over Federer in the gold-medal match after the marathon Federer endured on Friday—and the mental and physical exhaustion it likely caused.
Despite dropping the first set to Juan Martin del Potro, Federer held on to win in his own semifinal match 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 19-17, and will now have the opportunity to face the same young star he defeated en route to his seventh Wimbledon title a month ago.
Back in July, Federer beat Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 for his seventh Wimbledon crown, improving to 7-1 on the grass courts at the All England Club.
Now, with another fateful chance to take down the grass-court master at his preferred venue, it's Murray's turn to start moving the course of history in a new direction.
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