The roars grew longer, the applause louder, with each game and each point that carried Andy Murray closer to ending Britain's 77-year wait for a men's champion at Wimbledon.
The roars grew longer, the applause louder, with each game and each point that carried Andy Murray closer to ending Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s champion at Wimbledon.
Then, with Murray suddenly needing merely one point to end his grueling final against Novak Djokovic, the 15,000 spectators filling Centre Court at the All England Club hushed long enough for play to resume. Murray lost that point. As well as his second championship point. And, yes, his third, too.
Grand Slam success did not come quickly or easily for Murray earlier in his career, and it certainly did not come recently for the British at their revered grass-court tournament, so there was something fitting about the way the last game dragged on, the tension growing, the long wait a little longer still.
When a fourth championship point eventually arrived, nearly 10 minutes after the first, the normally relentless Djokovic finally yielded, pushing a backhand into the net to cap Murray’s 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 victory Sunday.
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The match was over. The angst was gone. Murray – and all of Britain – could celebrate.
“That last game will be the toughest game I’ll play in my career. Ever,” said Murray, who is Scottish. “Winning Wimbledon – I still can’t believe it. Can’t get my head around that. I can’t believe it.”
Until Sunday, no British man had won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.
“I obviously wanted to try and win this for myself,” Murray told the crowd, cradling his new gold trophy, “but also I understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon, so I hope you guys enjoyed it.”
The ceremony’s emcee described the closing game as “tortuous to watch,” and Murray, with perfect comedic timing, piped up, “Imagine playing it.”
When the 210th, and last, point went Murray’s way, the ball landing on Djokovic’s side of the court, the new champion dropped his neon-red racket, yanked his white hat off and pumped both fists overhead, screaming, “Yes! Yes!” He kicked a ball into the stands. He fell to his knees, then covered his eyes with his hands, before walking over to high-five some fans. An earsplitting ovation rang out in the arena, soon giving rise to chats of “Andy! Andy! Andy!”
Across the grounds, thousands responded with cheers while watching on a giant videoboard at the picnic lawn known as Murray Mount. And, surely, millions more following along on TV across Britain stood up from their sofas. British Prime Minister David Cameron was in the Royal Box, a sign of the day’s significance, and Buckingham Palace confirmed that Queen Elizabeth II sent Murray a private message afterward.
“The end of the match, that was incredibly loud, very noisy,” Murray said. “It does make a difference. It really helps when the crowd’s like that, the atmosphere is like that. Especially in a match as tough as that one, where it’s extremely hot, brutal, long rallies, tough games – they help you get through it.”
He climbed up to the guest box for hugs with several people, including his girlfriend and his coach, Ivan Lendl, an eight-time major champion as a player who never fared better than runner-up at Wimbledon. Murray then started to head back down to the court when he realized he’d forgotten to find his mother, British Fed Cup captain Judy Murray, and went back to hug her, too.
Speaking about Lendl, Murray said: “Ideally he would have won it himself, but I think this was the next best thing for him. … He believed in me when a lot of people didn’t. … He’s been very patient with me. I’m just happy I managed to do it for him.”
Only two men in tennis history lost their first four Grand Slam finals: Lendl and Murray. A defeat against Roger Federer in last year’s Wimbledon title match dropped Murray to 0-4.
That day, Murray’s voice cracked and tears rolled as he told the crowd, “I’m getting closer.”
How prescient. Four weeks later, on the same court, he beat Federer for a gold medal at the London Olympics, a transformative victory if ever there was one. And 52 weeks later, on the same court, he beat Djokovic for the Wimbledon championship.
In between, Murray beat Djokovic in five sets at the U.S. Open in September for Grand Slam title No. 1.
“You need that self-belief in the important moments,” observed Djokovic, a six-time major champion, “and he’s got it now.”
Judy Murray agreed that the setback 12 months ago “was a turning point in some ways.”
“Every time you have a really tough loss, a loss that really hurts you,” she said, “I think you learn a lot about how to handle the occasions better going forward.”
For several seasons, Murray was the outsider looking in, while Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic collected 29 out of 30 major titles. But now Murray has clearly and completely turned the Big 3 into a Big 4, having reached the finals at the last four major tournaments he entered (he withdrew from the French Open in May because of a bad back).
“I persevered,” the 26-year-old Murray said. “That’s really been it. The story of my career, probably. I had a lot of tough losses, but the one thing I would say is I think every year I always improved a little bit.”
He showed resilience Sunday. Murray trailed 4-1 in the second set, then 4-2 in the third, before wiggling his way back in front each time.
The fans were active participants throughout, lamenting “ahttp://wwww” when Murray missed a serve; cheering rowdily when he hit one of his 36 winners, five more than Djokovic; shushing in unison when someone called out in premature agony or delight while a point was in progress.
That was understandable. Points rarely are over when they appear to be if Murray and Djokovic are involved. The elastic Djokovic’s sliding carries him to so many shots, while Murray is more of a powerful scrambler. It took a half-hour to get through the opening five games, in part because 10 of 32 points lasted at least 10 strokes apiece. And this all happened with the temperature above 80 degrees, only the occasional puff of cloud interrupting the blue sky.
Born a week apart in May 1987, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic and No. 2 Murray have known each other since they were 11, and they grasp the ins and outs of each other’s games so well.
This was their 19th meeting on tour (Djokovic leads 11-8), and their fourth in a Grand Slam final, including three in the past year. Both are fantastic returners, and Murray broke seven times Sunday, once more than Djokovic lost his serve in the preceding six matches combined.
Down the stretch – at least until the ultimate, difficult moments – Murray was superior, taking the last four games. He broke for a 5-4 lead when Djokovic flubbed a forehand. When Murray got out of his changeover chair, preparing to serve for the title, the sound from the stands was immense.
Djokovic missed a backhand, Murray smacked a backhand winner and added a 131 mph service winner, and suddenly one point was all that remained between him and history. That’s where things got a tad complicated.
On match point No. 1, Djokovic capped a 12-stroke exchange with a forehand volley winner. On No. 2, Djokovic hit a backhand return winner off an 84 mph second serve. On No. 3, Murray sailed a backhand long on the ninth shot.
Now it was deuce.
“I started to feel nervous,” Murray said.
The match continued for eight additional points. Seemed to take forever.
“My head was kind of everywhere. I mean, some of the shots he came up with were unbelievable,” Murray said. “At the end of the match, I didn’t quite know what was going on. Just a lot of different emotions.”
Any of Djokovic’s break points in that game would have made it 5-all, and who knows what toll that would have taken on Murray’s mind? But Murray erased the first two chances with a 116 mph service winner, then a forehand winner on the 21st stroke.
At deuce for a third time, Djokovic conjured up a forehand passing winner to get his third break point. Murray dropped his head and placed his hands on his knees. He would not lose another point.
Admittedly feeling the effects of his five-setter Friday against Juan Martin del Potro – at 4 hours, 43 minutes, it’s the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history – Djokovic wound up with 40 unforced errors, nearly double Murray’s 21.
“I wasn’t patient enough,” Djokovic said.
Ah, patience. For fortnight after fortnight, decade after decade, Wimbledon began with much fanfare and ended with much disappointment for the British, who love their tennis and the tournament they refer to simply as The Championships.
Seen for a while as the best chance to deliver a title, Murray shouldered plenty of pressure and expectations lately.
“It’s hard. It’s really hard. You know, for the last four or five years, it’s been very, very tough, very stressful,” Murray said. “It’s just kind of everywhere you go. It’s so hard to avoid everything because of how big this event is, but also because of the history and no Brit having won.”
The phrase “the last British man to win Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936″ became part of the national conversation. Thanks to what happened Sunday, that changes forever.
As of now, the last British man to win Wimbledon was Andy Murray in 2013.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich