LONDON (AFP) - Andy Murray moved a step closer to a record fifth Queen’s Club title as the defending champion battled into the final with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Marin Cilic on Saturday.
Murray was pushed hard by Cilic but eventually subdued the Croatian in a tense two-hour semi-final and will face Milos Raonic for the trophy on Sunday after the Canadian third seed defeated Australia’s Bernard Tomic 6-4, 6-4.
The 29-year-old Scot’s primary aim is to hone his grass-court game with Wimbledon starting in just over a week, but he would also relish passing John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Roy Emerson and Boris Becker as the sole owner of the most Queen’s crowns.
“There have been many great players over the years who have played here so if I can do better than them and win a fifth title, then it is a good sign, but I’m certainly not taking anything for granted,” Murray said.
Reaching his fifth final of the year will be hugely encouraging for Murray in the week he reunited with coach Ivan Lendl, two years after they originally parted ways.
The two-time Grand Slam champion looks to have got his painful French Open final loss to Novak Djokovic out of his system as he prepares for his latest attempt to emulate his historic 2013 Wimbledon triumph.
“Marin plays extremely well on the grass so I knew I had to play really well. There were some really good points,” Murray said.
“In the third set the intensity got raised and I played some good shots at the end.
“Hopefully I can serve like that again in the final. It’s so important on this surface.” After playing British opponents in the previous two rounds, Murray had been looking forward to enjoying the complete backing of the crowd once again and he didn’t take long to get them cheering.
He landed the first blow with a powerful crosscourt forehand that left Cilic reeling and secured a break in the third game.
Murray had won 10 of his previous 12 meetings with Cilic, including a tight three-setter in the 2013 Queen’s final that ended the 2012 champion’s bid to retain the title.
And, playing with far more urgency and swagger than in his last outing against Kyle Edmund, Murray was on course to extend his dominance over the world number 13 as he broke again to clinch the first set in ruthless fashion.
Yet Murray had spoken admiringly of Cilic’s game during the week, so he couldn’t have been surprised to be punished when his levels dipped in the second set.
After dropping the second set against Edmund on Friday, Murray had responded with a blistering surge to the finish line and he repeated the trick against Cilic – showing his tremendous reserves of spirit and stamina to secure the crucial break in the second game of a gripping final set.
There was less drama in the second semi-final as world number nine Raonic took just 62 minutes to see off Tomic, booking his first Queen’s final appearance and his third ATP Tour final of the year.
The 25-year-old hit 12 aces and, with his serve working so well, needed only one break in each set to end Tomic’s bid for a first Queen’s final.
Former Wimbledon semi-finalist Raonic will take on Murray hoping to win his first ever grass-court title and his second ATP title of 2016 after his victory in Brisbane in January.