A single clap. Andy Murray had just broken Novak Djokovic for the second time in the fifth set of the U.S. Open final, and all he got from...
A single clap. Andy Murray had just broken Novak Djokovic for the second time in the fifth set of the U.S. Open final, and all he got from his coach, Ivan Lendl, was one measly clap. In the previous set, when Murray won an exhilarating 30-shot rally and the nearly 24,000 fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium erupted, Lendl did not see fit to join that ovation either.
It was hard to take my eyes off Lendl that Monday night as the captivated crowd surrounding him gasped and roared at every lunging forehand and ripped backhand — even with the distraction of Sean Connery sitting nearby, wrapped in a blue blanket and pumping his fist for Murray, his fellow Scot.
As a summer’s day became a blustery night, as Djokovic and Murray took turns muttering to themselves, Lendl was the model of stoic calm — awkwardly dressed in a red sweater and white shorts, often hunched over, elbow on knee, chin in hand.
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But that’s why he was there. That’s why the mercurial Murray chose Lendl to be his coach this year. Lendl knew what it was like to come so close and fall short over and over. He knew, as Murray knew, as Britain knew. There would be no cheering until it was over.
Murray took us along on his emotional roller coaster in 2012. The heartbreak of his loss in the Wimbledon final, when he had Roger Federer on his heels, then the rain came, the roof closed, and it ended with Murray tearfully saying, “Getting closer.” The leap for joy one month later when Murray dismantled Federer on the same court for the Olympic gold medal, part of the crescendo of British athletic greatness at the London Games. The relief — the word that Murray chose when asked to summarize his feelings — when he outlasted Djokovic that September night for his coveted first Grand Slam title, becoming the first British man to capture a Grand Slam singles championship since Fred Perry in 1936.
When it was really, truly over, Murray was holding the trophy and thanking his coach in front of the crowd, saying, “I think that was almost a smile.”
The match itself was a roller coaster. Murray won the first two sets, including a 12-10 first-set tiebreaker, then saw Djokovic fight back. They played for 4 hours, 54 minutes, on the 15th day of another U.S. Open tormented by bad weather.
For the record, it wasn’t even the longest Grand Slam final this year: that was Djokovic’s 5-hour-53-minute victory over Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open. It was a can-you-top-this year for men’s tennis. Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray each won Grand Slam tournaments. Federer reclaimed the No. 1 ranking for four months and won his first major title in 2 ½ years. Djokovic won six titles, returned to No. 1 and was the player of the year. All that was missing was a full-strength Nadal, who succumbed to bad knees after winning the French Open.
A liberated Murray. A persistent Djokovic. A determined Federer. A (hopefully) healthy Nadal. It’s shaping up to be a 2013 season that might make even Lendl stand up and cheer.