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Murray a worthy successor to Perry
Hello, Fred Perry, do you hear me up there? Remember all the times we sat in the BBC commentary box at Wimbledon talking about the possibility, just the possibility, of someone joining you as a British Grand Slam winner?
Well a young man from Scotland just did it. He’s called Andy Murray and he has pushed you down the list of last British winners with the most stunning display of skill, strength and sheer guts to beat Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, 7-6(12), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 in 4 hours, 54 minutes of raw drama on Arthur Ashe Stadium on Monday night.
And funny enough Fred, he did it on Sept. 10, the same date you beat Jack Crawford to win your first US title (then the US National Championship) back in 1933. That was a long five-setter, too, although not as long as this (which tied Mats Wilander’s victory over Ivan Lendl, who just happens to be coaching Murray, in 1988 as the longest US Open final ever). Of course, you went on to win two more US titles over on the grass at Forest Hills, the third coming with a 10-8 victory in the fifth set over the great American Don Budge. That was in 1936 and no man from Britain has won any of the four Grand Slams since — 76 long years.
You may like to know you have a few other things in common with the new hero. You were both born under the Taurus sign, you on May 18, Andy on May 15. You were both seeded No. 3 and your opponents were both seeded No. 2. Crawford and Djokovic, to make this story a little stranger, were both holders of the Australian title when they lost here in New York.
Oh, and you know what happened on Sept. 10 in 1991? Crawford passed away, 3 and 1/2 years before you left us in February 1995.
So Monday a bit of history was revisited and it could hardly have been played out in more dramatic fashion. The wind played its part because we had seen how uncomfortable Djokovic had been, going down 2-5 in his semifinal against David Ferrer, and because of the howling gale that Murray had successfully negotiated against Thomas Berdych in the previous match.
It was not quite as strong by the time the delayed final started at 4 p.m. ET but it still moved the ball in the air and played havoc with the service toss. Djokovic, fretting, went down 0-4 in the first set only to battle his way back as his head cleared and push Murray into the most amazing tie break that the Scot finally nailed 12-10 on his sixth set point.
Despite all that followed that set, that was where Murray won the match. The previous 13 encounters between these two had all been won by the man winning the first set and it was vital, psychologically, that Murray do so.
He quickly got away to a fast start in the second, too, but once again the fiercely determined Serb hauled him back, engaging Murray in rallies that defied the laws of human endeavor. There had been one rally of no less than 54 shots in the first set and there were more to come of 25 and 30 or more.
Both of these players have built their games on defense, but it was the Serb’s ability to step inside the court and start pressuring Murray that enabled him to turn the tide in the third and fourth sets as the air chilled and the sun disappeared over Manhattan. Djokovic won 39 of 56 net sorties; Murray just 16 of 24.
Murray took a bathroom break after losing the fourth, partially to collect his thoughts.
“I thought about what had happened in the third and fourth sets and told myself to give everything in the fifth and not get too down on myself so that, no matter what, I would have no regrets,” he said, appearing at the press conference after one of his team had sprayed both Lendl and himself with champagne. Lendl, apparently, was not particularly amused.
What Murray did better in the fifth was quite simple but difficult to execute. He served better. He had been serving at 80 percent of first serves in the first set, which was extraordinary given the conditions. Somehow he got his rhythm working again in the fifth and got the percentage right back up there. But it was never easy.
“We were both frustrated,” Djokovic said. “It’s just the way you handle it. Even though I was two sets down I still believed I could come back and win the match. A little bit slow at the start of the fifth and it cost me today.”
It cost him, in part, because his legs went. Even though he wasn’t always winning those long rallies early on, Murray was dictating the patterns and it was Djokovic who was doing most of the running. In the end, cramps hit and he took a time out, controversially in many people’s view, to have a courtside massage on his thighs.
But Djokovic was a gracious loser and genuinely pleased for Andy, whom he has known well for years. “I had a great opponent today,” he said. “He deserved to win this Grand Slam more than anybody because over the years he’s been a top player. He’s been so close. Definitely, you know, I’m happy he won it.”
Murray was in a more complicated state than mere happiness. “It was an incredibly tough match,” he said. “Mentally it was challenging and ‘relief’ is probably the word I would use to describe how I am feeling right now. I was obviously very emotional on court. You’re in a little bit of disbelief because I have been in this position many times and not won.”
In fact this was Murray’s fifth Grand Slam final and he had lost the first four, just as Lendl had before he beat John McEnroe at the French Open in 1984.
Murray managed to keep the enormity of what he was trying to achieve out of his mind right until the end. “I know when I was serving for the match, there was a sense of how big a moment this is for British tennis history. I hope it inspires some kids to play tennis and takes away the notion that British players choke or don’t win or that it’s not a good sport.”
Murray, who will pass Rafael Nadal as world No. 3 after this win, spoke about trying to reach No. 1 as his next goal.
They didn’t have official rankings back in your day, Fred, but I am sure you regarded yourself as No. 1 when you were winning all those titles at Wimbledon, Roland Garros and Forest Hills.
Murray said that he was too young to remember ever hearing you on radio, although I am sure he probably did while his mother was driving him to matches. He said he regretted never having had the chance to meet you, especially as, early in his career, he wore your clothing line. He said, “I’m sure he’s smiling from up there now that someone from Britain has finally managed to do it.”
Puffing on your pipe, I expect you’re having a good chuckle, Fred.
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