NEW YORK -- The 50-year-old-looking guy sitting behind me in Arthur Ashe Stadium said it best: "When the first set started, I was still in college."
An hour and 27 minutes later, with winds whipping in every direction, Andy Murray successfully ended the longest men's final tiebreaker in U.S. Open history with a scorcher of a serve that Novak Djokovic couldn't handle, giving him a 7-6 (11-9) opening-set lead. Four ridiculous sets and 4 hours, 54 minutes later, after Djokovic had mounted a methodical comeback, Murray stood on the podium, holding the one trophy that had eluded him all these years -- the winner's trophy. The big trophy. The one that brought him to tears. Never had the words Great Scot rung so true.
It was the opening first set, though, that set the tone. Murray and Djokovic played a subtle, strategic game with neither player willing to go for the outright winner. It was quirky, almost uncomfortable, to watch. Djokovic never seemed to find his footing, often lunging for backhands and, for a while, massaging forehands just to keep them from floating long. Murray, too, played with a sense of reserve, slicing and dicing and hitting down the middle of the court. The irony, of course, is that very M.O. has made Murray one of the most criticized players in the game.
Yet here we are, with the Slam season freshly in the old books and we're calling Andy Murray a Grand Slam winner. Yes, you heard that right: a Grand Slam champ. It's a little hard to digest, for sure, considering all his past travails. In his four previous trips to a major final, Murray had left dejected and wondering when and if his time would ever come. To boot, he won a grand total of one set in those matches. But this year's Murray sailed into New York riding a tsunami of confidence, still reveling in the glory of gold.
We had expected a lot from Murray for years, but it wasn't until he won the Olympics that any of us, media, fans, perhaps Murray himself, believed a Slam title could realistically be in his near future. The doubters questioned his toughness, his poor play under pressure and his inability to take a hefty cut at the ball during crunch time.
But this major was different for Murray. During Saturday's semifinals, with gusts of wind constantly spitting garbage and food onto the courts -- and with the threat of tornadoes nearby -- it was Murray who settled in and calmly adjusted to the conditions. His opponent that day, Tomas Berdych, and Djokovic, who took the court afterward, were visibly irritated.
Still, though, as swiftly as Murray had played, there were plenty of detractors, even when Murray went up two sets to love on Djokovic in the final. Neil Harman, the esteemed scribe from the Sunday Times of London, who has covered Murray on a daily basis since Murray was a junior in 2004, nervously placed his hands over his face and said, "I can't take it. My heart can't handle this."
Harmon, like so many other Brits, longed for this day. How many more mentions of ghosts and Fred Perry and futility and 1936 could a nation take? With each passing year, it became more grim. Was Murray going to leave this game bereft of the one prize he'll forever be judged on? Was he always going to have to live with that awful moniker as the best player to never have won a major?
The answer, of course, is not anymore. The wait is over. The burden gone. Andy Murray is a Grand Slam champion. Yes, the big trophy belongs to him.