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SCOT ENDS 76-YEAR BRITISH DROUGHT WITH WIN OVER DJOKOVIC
After 4:53 of this epic final against Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray secured the first Grand Slam Championship point of his career. His forehand drifted wide.
Earlier in the match he was up two sets to none, only to falter and lose the next two sets.
Four times the slender Scot had reached Slam finals. Four times he lost.
“It’s been a long road,” he said.
Well it’s been an even longer road for his nation. Who knew that when Fred Perry beat Don Budge in the 1936 U.S. National Championship that a Brit would not win another major for 76 years?
Then destiny delivered. Andy Murray’s 7-6, (10) 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 win was a triumph of British pluck, will and determination. Few other athletes have upgraded their play with such calculation and hard hat intention amidst so many obstacles.
Yes Murray had good genes and good tennis parents. He was shipped off as a young teen to a Spanish tennis factory and won the U.S. Open junior championships. He reached one Slam final after another, only to fall. Forget Henmania, Murray took over and carried the considerable weight of his Kingdom on his shoulders. Yes, they re-named Henman Hill. Murray Mount it was.
A hero to some, diistant and sullen to others, he endured storms of criticism. Far from cuddly, it was hard to cozy up to the introspective youth. Still a cadre of writers followed his every move. He was said to be weak. So he worked countless hours in the gym, added ten pounds and flexed his biceps, as if to say, I may be Scottish, I may have a pasty complexion, but I’m no wimp.
Still the critics insisted he had “the demeanor of a gravedigger.” But the boy became a man in front of a million eyes. He handled his country’s invasive tabloid journalists with astounding ease and an almost Zen-like detachment. He remained true to his self.
On court, wonks howled that his offense wasn’t good enough. Yes, he play with a liquid grace suggestive of old Miloslav Mecir. But, Andy didn’t go for his shots and he didn’t listen. So he hired the fiercest man in tennis since Jimmy Connors, a man with a gravitas which was hard to ignore.
Never mind that Ivan Lendl might be the only man in tennis who was more glum and unsmiling than Andy. The eight-time Slam winner had Andy flatten his forehand. He insisted he go for his shots, give 110% and leave all he had on the court. Lendl’s core, no philosophy was simple: “Win the last point!”
But time and again Murray had failed. In particular, after losing to Djokovic in the 2011 Aussie Open he went into a kind of free fall. Deep funk, ample angst, woe-is-me grimaces and self-indulgent body language were all too common. Another new coach (Alex Corretja) didn’t click.
Then, before this year’s Aussie Open, he hired Lendl and soon after lost with honor to Djokovic in over five hours in one of the greatest matches of all time.
But at the French Open he struggled with a wretched back. It was said he only winced when he lost a point. Virginia Wade called him a drama queen – not a great way to go into Wimbledon. But Murray reached the final at the All-England Club, where he took a set off of Federer and won the hearts of British fans with his teary (vulnerable for the first time) homage to his backers. “Rain fell like tears,” they told us. “And then tears fell like rain.”
Then at the Olympics, as a member of Britain’s “Team GB” (and with a little less focus on him) Murray caught Federer on an off day and won the Gold. Lendl called it a major. But, everyone knew better. Yes, Murray was on the ascent and on the cusp of greatness. But like his coach before him, he wore the dubious crown of being the best player in the game to have never have won a Slam. So what does it take to win a Slam? Djokovic said Andy had, “all the capacity in the world … it was just a matter of belief, to really be mentally mature and to understand what you need to do to become … the best in the world.”
Fate was smiling. Next up for Andy was America’s Slam and Andy loves America. He has a place in Florida. There’s less pressure here. He won the U.S. Open juniors here and his mom always said the US Open would be his first Slam victory. More importantly, Nadal was sidelined and Federer lost. In a blustery semi the wind-wise Scot dismantled a confused Tomas Berdych to reach the final where he would meet a man he had much in common with. He and Djokovic were born within a week. Both are in their primes, great movers and defenders, have superb backhands and returns and know a thing or two about laboring in the shadow of Roger and Roger.
But today they put on their own show. As the winds again came and went, world class goundies alternated with awkward lunges and junior-like pokes. Twisting forehands curved and became knock down punches. wicked slices floated, drop shots drifted into the alleys. Try and plant and blast – forget it! Establish a rhythm – not on this day. This was more a match – at least at the beginning – in which it was more a matter of not losing the competition then winning it. And Murray managed the winds with some command and far more ease then the surprisingly baffled, hands on his hips, Djokovic who lost a marathon 1:27 first set, 12-10 in the tie-break. Murray then rolled on to claim the second set 7-5. Presumably the match was his.
But as the wind died down, Djokovic’s game picked up. Stepping in, hitting out, serving with power and placement and prevailing in many a wonder rally, the limber Serb claimed the next two sets.
For the first time since Pancho Gonzalez in 1949 a man had come back from two sets down to force a fifth set. For the first time since 1988 the Open would feature a five-set men’s final and a three-set woman’s finale. And, for the first time since the second set, Djokovic’s game dipped. As Sean Connery huddled under a blanket in the President’s Box and was served yet another coffee, his fellow Scot served up a fifth set break of serve and never looked back. The dye had been set. At last someone not named Djokovic, Federer nor Nadal would prevail and when a final forehand from the Serb faltered, a stunned Murray was overwhelmed with emotion. Clasping his knees and holding his head, he actually managed to get a smile out of Lendl.
Still, he would explain, that “relief is probably the best word I would use to describe how I’m feeling.” But when a reporter asked, if there was a moment you thought “exaltation” too, Murray replied that he didn’t know what exaltation meant. But Andy does know a thing or two about history and “The Spirit of ’76.”
No, not our “Spirit of 76” when in 1776 we Yankees rebelled against his King, but rather tennis’ spirit of 76 and the 76 seasons it took before Brit Andy gave Crown and Country their first Grand Slam in over three-quarters of a century, a feat that is indeed worth a toothy transatlantic smile.