LONDON (AFP) – Andy Murray will face defending champion Marin Cilic in his third Queen s Club final as the world number two fought back to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday.
Murray was forced to wait several hours before finally getting on court due to heavy rain in west London, but he recovered from a slow start to inflict another defeat on French fourth seed Tsonga at the pre-Wimbledon warm-up event.
The US Open champion had won seven of his previous eight meetings with Tsonga, including the 2011 Queen s final and the 2012 Wimbledon semi-finals, and he maintained his dominance over his close friend to secure a Sunday showdown with Cilic, who beat Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 in the other semi-final.
It will be Murray s 41st ATP Tour final, but his first since he defeated David Ferrer to win the Miami Masters in March.
“I managed to turn that match around against a top player, he s one of the best grass court players in the world,” Murray told the BBC.
Murray has already won the Queen s title twice, in 2009 and 2011, and completing the hat-trick would be the perfect way for the top seed to prepare for his latest bid to win Wimbledon, which gets underway in just nine days.
But the 26-year-old will face a stern challenge from Croatian fifth seed Cilic, who is unbeaten at Queen s in the last two years.
Cilic, who will be appearing his first ATP Tour final since winning on home soil in Zagreb in February, won Queen s in bizarre circumstances last year when David Nalbandian was disqualified during the final for kicking an advertising board into the shins of a line-judge.
Murray has won eight of his nine career meetings with Cilic. But if the 24-year-old can upset Murray on Sunday he will become the first player to retain the Queen s title since Andy Roddick in 2005.
It was a dramatic end to what was initially a frustrating day for all four semi-finalists as rain lashed the grounds, forcing a two-hour delay to the start of the first semi-final between Cilic and Hewitt, and then another lengthy interruption which prompted tournament organisers to take the controversial decision to switch the already underway Cilic match from the main show-court onto Court One.
The move was motivated by a desire to ensure both matches were completed on Saturday, while also giving the packed show-court crowd the chance to see home favourite Murray in action.
After passing time with a game of table football during the rain delay, Murray and Tsonga produced an enthralling match for the fans.
An erratic service game from Murray at 4-4 swung the match Tsonga s way as the Frenchman punished a tame second serve with a ferocious backhand winner down the line.
That gave Tsonga a break point and Murray failed to deal with the threat as a double fault surrendered the advantage to the world number seven, who showed his opponent how to do it as he easily closed out the set on his own serve.
But Tsonga suddenly lost his concentration in the next game and a pair of woeful forehands handed Murray an unexpected break which he quickly capitalised on to make it one set all.
The momentum was with Murray now and the Olympic gold medallist moved ahead for good when he broke at the seventh attempt in the third game of the final set.
Tsonga s notoriously fragile morale was shattered and Murray killed him off with one more break in the fifth game.
In the other semi, Cilic ended former Wimbledon champion Hewitt s fairytale run.
World number 82 Hewitt had rolled back the years with a series of surprise victories this week, but his bid for a record fifth Queen s crown, which would have made him the oldest man to lift the trophy, fell at the penultimate hurdle.