After 77 years of waiting for another British Wimbledon men’s champion in Andy Murray, this kingdom, rarely so united, had to endure a few minutes that felt like another 77 years.
The Scotsman had played world No.1 Novak Djokovic into an inescapable corner in the Wimbledon final, and at 40-0 had three points to rewrite history – personal and national. Then thinking got in the way.
Triumph would take 14 more points, three of which, if won by Djokovic, would have extended the match and maybe even won Djokovic the initiative.
The balance of the way the final was played belied this possibility, but the afternoon was warm, the many long rallies had taken their toll, both players were weary – and it was Djokovic. Sue Barker would later say to Murray that it was tortuous to watch. ”Imagine playing it!” he retorted. ”That last game will be the toughest I’ll play in my career,” he said. ”Ever.”
When at last Murray had succeeded Fred Perry as the most recent British man to win Wimbledon, he appeared to experience every known emotion. ”At the end of the match I didn’t quite know what was going on,” he said.
He wandered as if in a daze, held his arms aloft, reddened a little around the eyes, repeatedly held his hands to his face, prostrated himself on the court, looked up into the crowd – as it happens, at the press box, which he said might have been subconscious – then climbed into the stands to hug everyone in his retinue.
Only then was he ready to accept the trophy as the first British man to win Wimbledon in shorts, as one critic wryly observed. Only then did his permanently long face shorten and crinkle a little.
And only in in the golden light of retrospect might he come to see that this really was only destiny. Murray was No.2 in the world to Djokovic’s No.1, but for some time he has been closing the gap.
Murray had won and lost major finals to Djokovic in the past 12 months. He was beaten in last year’s final by Roger Federer. If his coach Ivan Lendl had taught him one thing, he said, it was to learn from defeats, not stew on them.
Murray had a Marion Bartoli-like charmed run through the tournament, playing no one ranked higher than No.20. Djokovic’s draw was much more difficult, culminating in a brutal semi-final against Juan Martin Del Potro. Djokovic would not excuse his uncharacteristically anaemic performance, though.
All of Britain was right behind Murray again. However many points he won, the roar from the crowd was like England scoring a goal at Wembley. At the climax, the spectators, although beside themselves, were shushing one another, so as not to despoil the history they were about to witness.
And despite the match looking short and straightforward on the scoreboard, it was protracted in its playing – as long as any five-setter, the players said. There was none of the crash-bang of the semi-finals; each point had to be negotiated and won, as if separately carrying its own premium, and so each set lasted at least an hour. Improbably, in a three-set men’s match, there were 11 breaks of serve, and 19 other break points.
The end was in the beginning. The first point took more than 20 shots to complete; the first three games more than 20 minutes. In the first game, Djokovic lagged 0-40 on his serve, and he seemed to be playing from behind for the rest of the match. His tally of 40 errors was unconscionable by his standards. Later, he credited Murray for his returns, and chastised himself for impatience and wasting chances at the net.
Both players said the match was physically draining. It is hard to know how much of the Scot’s woe-is-me look is affect and how much effect; how much fatigue and how much a kind of designer weariness.
But Murray was not spent. He recovered a smash, then killed off Djokovic’s drop volley. It gave him his fourth match point.
Later, his mind still a vortex, he could not remember the shape of the winning point but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that after three hours on court, nine years of his longing and 77 years of his country’s, he was champion.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.