Murra-culous Andy finally does it
LONDON -- Britain, of late, has been enjoying a rare run of prosperity, in and out of the athletic arena.
The economy, against dire projections, is improving, and the recent weather has been uncharacteristically brilliant. On Saturday, a British cyclist, Chris Froome, vaulted into the lead in the Tour de France, and the British and Irish Lions left Australia with a rugby Test series victory for the first time in 16 years.
One day later, Scotland's Andy Murray played in the final at Wimbledon.A year ago, after he lost to Roger Federer in the final here, Murray cried and said "I'm getting closer."
On a sweltering Sunday, he finally crossed the line. Murray defeated Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 to win his first title at the All England Club and end a 77-year national nightmare.
It has been 28,128 days since Fred Perry won his last of three consecutive Wimbledon titles, better than 40 million minutes. And now, you won't be reading those obligatory paragraphs that bear his name because a Brit finally has lifted the title here again.
Murray admitted the pressure he's been feeling at Wimbledon was intense.
"For the last four or five years, it's been very, very tough, very stressful," Murray said. "The few days before the tournament, really difficult as well. I mean, the last two days are not easy. Because 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.
"I think I felt a little bit better this year than I did last year. But it's not easy. I think now it will become easier. I hope it will. I hope it will."
Murray converted his fourth match point and, after embracing Djokovic and falling to the grass, walked around the lower rim of raucous Centre Court, high-fiving random spectators.
"It feels slightly different to last year," Murray said. "Last year was one of the toughest moments of my career. I don't know how I was able to come through that last game … three match points.
"Just managed to squeeze through in the end."
Djokovic, who won here two years ago, was gracious.
"I know how much it means to the whole country," he said. "Well done. I am aware of the pressure [on Murray]. To pull out a championship tournament after being in the finals a year ago is a great achievement."
It was Murray's second major title and his second in the past three he has played. This delighted patrons of the Royal Box, who included the Duke of Kent, Victoria Beckham, Rod Laver, Stan Smith, Wayne Rooney and Bradley Cooper.
The match ran 3 hours, 9 minutes, but it felt much, much longer.
On a day when the temperature on Centre Court, according to the BBC, hit 40 degrees centigrade in the sun (104 degrees Fahrenheit), Djokovic was something less than his usually brilliant self.
He had averaged only a single double fault per match here at the Championships, but on Sunday he had four. And Murray hit more winners (36 to 31) and had fewer unforced errors (21 to 40). Djokovic seemed out of sorts all day, nursing a sore left wrist and fading badly in the third set.
Djokovic is the best mover in tennis, but this question persisted all the way into the final: How well would he return from that draining 4-hour, 43-minute semifinal victory over Juan Martin del Potro?
His powers of recovery, of course, approach the absurd. At last year's Australian Open, Djokovic beat Murray in the semifinals in a match that clocked in at 10 minutes under five hours. He came back two days later and beat Rafael Nadal in an exhausting 5-hour, 53-minute final.
Djokovic admitted Sunday that his semifinal match "took a lot out of me," which left him looking to end points more quickly than usual.
"Maybe physically because I didn't feel maybe I had enough gas in the important moments," he said. "I went for my shots more than usual. I wasn't patient enough.
"OK, that's life. You have to move on."
Clearly, last year's Wimbledon final had a galvanizing effect for Murray. He returned later that month and ran through the Olympic field and won the gold medal -- something, he says, that will always top any potential win at Wimbledon. Murray beat Federer in the gold-medal final, then five weeks later won his first Grand Slam singles title, beating Djokovic in the US Open final.
In 2013, however, Djokovic won their only previous match in four sets -- in the Australian Open final. Wimbledon was their third meeting in the past four major finals. They are the best two players in the game and, generally speaking, the difference between them is insignificant.
At the US Open, for instance, they fashioned 91 rallies of more than 10 shots. Here at the All England Club, they opened with a 20-shot rally and settled into a long, uncomfortable conversation.
When Murray converted his first break point on his eighth opportunity in the third game, Djokovic immediately broke back. Murray broke him again in the seventh game when Djokovic knocked a routine backhand into the net. This time, he made it stand up, and the first round went to Murray -- in 59 minutes.
With Murray, it's all about confidence. If you're wondering how he's feeling, check his position on the court. Inside the baseline: good. Outside: not so much. Early in the second set, Murray started drifting backward, and when his forehand found the net, Djokovic had the first break of the frame. It stood up until the seventh game, when Murray got more aggressive. A sweet backhand crosscourt service winner erased a game point, and then an 86 mph forehand winner set up what might have been the match's key moment.
Djokovic, aware that Murray was creeping in to strike another nasty backhand service return, double-faulted. Murray was back on serve and, when he broke Djokovic at 5-all, in position to serve for the set. This he did at love, punctuating it with a clean ace.And then, in almost anticlimactic fashion, Murray broke Djokovic's serve to open the third. And the tense crowd outside on Henman Hill, and inside Centre Court -- including Murray -- tried not to think too hard about what was about to happen.
Djokovic was up a break at 4-2, but Murray, grinding in typical fashion, broke back in the seventh game. He secured his fourth game with a running forehand get of a drop shot, bringing the crowd to its feet. When Murray broke an exhausted Djokovic in the ninth game, he found himself serving for the match.
"The bottom line is that he was a better player in decisive moments," Djokovic said. "Both second and third sets, I was 4-2 up and dropped the serve in those games and just allowed him to come back for no reason."
These two were born a week apart in 1987. Barring injuries, you can pencil Djokovic and Murray in as the top challengers for another, say, 10 to 12 major titles.
On Sunday, Djokovic was just a little off his game. Murray, who has made steady progress in the 18 months that Ivan Lendl has served as his coach, was more than game. Lendl lost his first four Grand Slam singles finals -- then came back and won eight of 15 major finals.
Murray, too, was 0-for-4, before beating Djokovic last year in New York. Now he has two of the past four.
"I think I persevered," Murray said. "That's really been it, the story of my career probably. I had, yeah, a lot of tough losses, but the one thing I would say is I think every year I always improved a little bit. They weren't major improvements, massive changes, but every year my ranking was going in the right direction.
"I was always going a little bit further in the Slams. I kept learning and I just kept working as hard as I could. When I lost those matches sometimes I dealt with them badly, but I think the last few losses that I've had in Slam finals I've dealt with them a lot better."