WIMBLEDON, England – On Sunday before another men’s final, fans in their broad-brimmed hats and sunscreen stopped to take pictures and pay tennis tribute to the bronze statue of Fred Perry that stands just outside Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Perry, a debonair Englishman, won the last of his three Wimbledon singles titles in 1936. But by late afternoon, with shadows extending across the most important and historic court in tennis, Perry no longer stood alone.
Andy Murray, a 26-year-old Scot, put a convincing end to a 77-year drought for the British men at the tournament that matters most to British men and their public. Murray did it by defeating top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.
“Let’s Make History,” read one of the many signs being waved inside Centre Court on a steamy day.
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Murray, long frustrated and even driven to tears by losing last year’s final, proceeded to do just that. He did it by proving better in the clutch and on the run than Djokovic, the game’s premier defender and marathon man. Murray did it by rallying from a break of serve down in the last two sets and shrugging off the loss of three match points and a 40-0 lead in the final game on his own serve.
He kept pushing, kept trying, as so many British men with lesser skills have tried through the decades, but this time the ending was different. On Murray’s fourth match point, Djokovic hit a two-handed backhand into the tape, and the final, with that burst of sound, was over.
“That last game will be the toughest game I’ll play in my career. Ever,” Murray said.
After the victory, Murray stripped off his cap, pumped his fists and shook hands with Djokovic, an old friend and rival, before climbing into the players box to embrace family and friends. He nearly forgot his mother and boyhood coach, Judy Murray, before reversing course and hugging her, too.
Then came the on-court interview, where Murray had broken down, microphone in hand, after losing a lead and the final to Roger Federer of Switzerland last year.
“It feels slightly different to last year,” Murray said. “Last year was one of the toughest moments of my career, so to manage to win the tournament today, it was an unbelievably tough match. So many long games, and I don’t know how I managed to come through that final game.”
BBC broadcaster Sue Barker told Murray the game had been “torturous to watch.”
Murray said, “Imagine playing it.”
He then spoke of Djokovic.
“I’ve played Novak many times, and I think when everyone is finished playing he’s going to go down as one of the biggest fighters,” Murray said. “He’s come back so many times from losing positions, and he almost did the same again today.”
It has not been 77 years since a British player won at Wimbledon. Virginia Wade won the women’s singles title in 1977 (the sevens were a numerologists’ feast Sunday).
But the British men — from Bunny Austin to Tim Henman — kept swinging and missing until Murray finally arrived: a once-in-a-generation talent from the unlikely tennis destination of Dunblane, Scotland.
A few weeks after losing in last year’s Wimbledon final, he came back to win the Olympic gold medal on the same stretch of lawn at the All England Club. A few weeks after that, he won his first major singles title — after four straight losses in finals in Grand Slam tournaments — at the U.S. Open.
But Wimbledon was still, as ever, the big one, and the Murray who showed up this year was a more settled, confident young man. His path to the final was a virtual stroll. Former champions Rafael Nadal and Federer, who were both in Murray’s half of the draw, were upset before the third round.
Murray was more effective with his first serve: winning 72 percent of the points to Djokovic’s 59 percent.
“I wasn’t patient enough in the moments when I should have been, when I should have looked for a better opportunity to attack,” Djokovic said. “And my serve wasn’t as good as it was the whole tournament. But that’s also because he’s such a good returner. Even when I was putting my first serves in, he was always getting them back in the court and making me play an extra shot.
“That’s why he won the tournament.”