Stunning reversal for Andy Murray
LONDON -- One by one, as the weekend drew to a close, the tennis courts around the grounds quieted. There would be other matches to be played, but all that was left in the imagination was the unfinished business of the men's final, the unfinished business that ended with tears a year ago.
All around Andy Murray, who is now the 2013 Wimbledon men's singles champion, are the scars of competition as well as its carrion. There is, in each and every locker room of every tournament he enters, living reminders of the bitterness of losing.Among those is Ivan Lendl, who played Wimbledon 14 times -- oftentimes dedicating full years of his career with the singular goal of winning at the expense of every other tournament -- but never won it.
For the past several years, Murray carried the same scars. After reaching the quarterfinals for the first time in a major at Wimbledon in 2008, Murray would reach at least the quarters in 12 of 16 majors without winning. There was always the crushing weight of Wimbledon and the identity crises that came with the mention of Fred Perry and all that British tennis players hadn't done here, which began to translate to all that Murray hadn't done here.
But Murray engineered a stunning reversal, applying a healing balm that over the past nine months has redefined a career.
In the end, he destroyed Novak Djokovic in Sunday's final. It wasn't a destruction in the Marion Bartoli-Sabine Lisicki sense, but more in the creating of his own mandate that Djokovic isn't the only one on the tour who can break the will of an opponent through patience, persistence, fitness and will.
Murray confirmed an iron will of his own, and in the process revealed another truth: In the time of an aging Roger Federer and an injury-challenged Rafael Nadal, Djokovic does not stand on the top podium alone. He has company that isn't going anywhere.
With Murray, the narrative, in many ways, had always been false, even though because of the mounting pressures, it became very real. Like his friend LeBron James, Murray was always too good, too talented, too driven and too close not to eventually win a championship. He was not known to waste his ability through lack of practice or stubbornness. His physically grinding, exhausting style of play always made him an injury risk, but he has been generally healthy. Murray was always willing to fight and learn and accept that he needed help, adding Lendl to his championship quest.
Yet the end result had always been the same: Someone else slightly more talented (Federer, Nadal), slightly tougher when it counted (Djokovic), slightly hotter (Juan Martin del Potro) or slightly luckier was the one holding the trophy.
Over time, the truths of Murray's gifts and attributes nevertheless remained true. They never had lost their potency, but without the championships, they fell deep down into the private space of the psyche where the demons live.
With Murray, the flaws were obvious: the outward negativity, the scowling and lashing out. The way, like in his semifinal against Nadal at the US Open in 2011, he was in the match on the scoreboard but the raging in his head destroyed him nearly as much as did Nadal, using up critical gallons of concentration in the wrong direction at the wrong times.
When Murray lost the 4-hour, 50-minute semifinal match to Djokovic in the Australian Open four and a half months later, it was because Djokovic was more fit, tougher mentally, unwilling to cave in on himself when he needed to be his biggest advocate.
On Sunday, as Murray closed in on his second Grand Slam title, a theme repeated itself in the second and third sets: Murray left the demons far in the rearview mirror. It was the culmination of a remarkable realization that his willingness to fight and persevere on a tennis court is every bit as equal to that of Djokovic.
There was the running forehand off the Djokovic volley at 4-4 in the third set that gave him two break points for a chance to serve for the match. There was the 4-1 deficit in the second set that he erased by winning six of the next seven games. There was the constant pressure he put on Djokovic's serve from the beginning of the match. Murray was running to the finish line before the match even began.
These results were the residue of victory, the payoff of success. Belief wanes without victory, for there are great champions, such as Lendl, who did everything right and did not win. If last year's Wimbledon final was a coronation of the mighty Federer, Murray's tears in defeat provided the springboard that redefined a career.Meanwhile, a strange thing has happened to Djokovic, who since 2012 has the same number of major titles as Nadal and Murray. For all of Djokovic's legendary resolve, all of it deserved, he has proved that he is human, just a man, after all. Djokovic's results in the past two majors, combined with Murray's steely rise, have made for a terrific narrative as the hard-court season nears, for these two will meet again and again.
In his past two majors, a fatal lapse in focus cost Djokovic his fortune. In the fifth set of his semifinal at Roland Garros against Nadal, Djokovic grew preoccupied -- at the worst possible time -- about the dryness of the court. That cost him a break and the match, 9-7 in the fifth. On Sunday, Djokovic couldn't stay grounded enough to withstand a driven Murray.
Such details are significant, less for what they mean to Djokovic but more a contrast to Murray, who throughout this final played with the kind of deep concentration that was once thought to be beyond him. Djokovic fumed at chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani as the championship was slipping away. When he would regain himself and attack Murray, it was Murray who withstood every charge, breaking back immediately in the second set.
It was the kind of toughness that was the final missing piece to a career.
Victory unearthed it.