From the lawns of Wimbledon to the lochs of Scotland, all of Britain can celebrate.
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Andy Murray made it possible Sunday, winning his country’s hallowed tennis tournament to become the first British man in 77 years to raise the trophy at the All England Club.
Murray’s 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 victory over top-seeded Novak Djokovic was a fitting close to nearly eight decades of British frustration in its own backyard: A straight-setter, but a hard-fought, 3-hour, 9-minute affair filled with long, punishing rallies and a final game that may have felt like another 77 years, with Murray squandering three match points before finally putting it away after four deuces.
Certainly, the endgame must have felt like torture to the 15,000 watching on Centre Court, the thousands more watching on a big-screen TV on the grounds and, of course, the millions of British watching on TV.
”Imagine playing it,” Murray said in his on-court interview.
But he closed it out on this warm, cloudless day on Centre Court. He put his name beside that of Fred Perry, the last British man to win Wimbledon, back in 1936.
Those words don’t have to be written again.
”He’s someone that I’ve obviously never met, but is quite relevant in my career really,” Murray said.
The second-seeded Murray beat the best in Djokovic – top-ranked and a six-time Grand Slam winner known for both a mental and physical fitness built to handle what he faced Sunday: A crowd full of overheated partisans rooting against him, to say nothing of Murray himself.
”The atmosphere was incredible for him. For me, not so much, but this is what I expected,” Djokovic said.
Since falling to Roger Federer in the final last year, Murray had shed some baggage by winning the Olympic gold medal on Centre Court, then following that with his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open.
The U.S. Open win ended a 76-year drought for the British in the Grand Slams.
This one? Even sweeter.
”The pinnacle of tennis,” Murray called the Wimbledon win. ”I worked so hard in that last game, the hardest few points I ever played in my life.”
When he finally wrapped it up, he let his racket fall to the turf, took his hat off and pumped his fist toward the crowd. Later, he climbed to the guest box where his girlfriend, Kim Sears, and his coach, Ivan Lendl, were among those sweating this one out.
Born a week apart in May 1987 – Djokovic in Belgrade when it was part of Yugoslavia, and Murray in Glasgow, Scotland – these top two players are building the best tennis rivalry of the 2010s. This was their third meeting in the past four Grand Slam finals and all have been riveting affairs.
Djokovic went up a break in both the second and third sets and, both times, appeared to have grabbed at least a bit of control and quieted a crowd that included Prime Minister David Cameron.
But Murray dug out of both holes. In the second set, he set up break point with a sharply angled forehand that Djokovic couldn’t handle, and the Serb responded with a double-fault, one of four on the day.
In the third set, Murray lost four straight games to fall behind 4-2, but got the break back and – eventually – closed it out by winning the last four games as the roars from every corner of Centre Court grew louder.
”The atmosphere today was different to what I’ve experienced in the past,” Murray said. ”It was different to last year’s final, for sure. And then, the end of the match, that was incredibly loud, very noisy. I’ve been saying it all week, but it does make a difference. Especially in a match as tough as that one, where it’s extremely hot, brutal, long rallies, tough games. They help you get through it.”
Trailing 5-4 in the third, Djokovic rushed out to the court after the break – a man who seemingly wanted to get it over with. Murray quickly went ahead 40-0 and it looked to be all but over. But the next few minutes felt like forever. Djokovic saved the first three championship points, then had three break opportunities of his own. He couldn’t convert any. Then, finally, Murray put it away when Djokovic rifled a backhand into the net. A few minutes later, the 26-year-old Murray was kissing the trophy.
How might things have progressed if Djokovic had pulled out that game?
”I don’t know,” was all he offered.
Djokovic came into the match on the heels of a 4-hour, 43-minute semifinal victory over Juan Martin del Potro in similarly parched conditions on Friday. He conceded that match took a lot out of him but ”I’ve been in these situations before. I felt OK.”
Indeed, he rarely wears out, but Murray and the linesmen combined for a one-two punch, and punctured the 2011 Wimbledon champion’s typically calm, almost robotic, demeanor.
Murray’s withering groundstrokes and his patience from behind the line helped him take the first set. Then slowly, Djokovic shifted his strategy, mixing in drop shots with frequent trips to the net – neither of which are considered his specialty. He won 30 of 52 trips to the net, compared to 26 for 37 for his opponent.
”I wasn’t patient enough in the moments when I should have been,” Djokovic said.
The impatience resulted in 40 unforced errors against 31 winners – an uncommonly average ratio for the world’s top-ranked player – compared to 36 winners and 21 unforced errors by Murray.
Meanwhile, Djokovic found himself in what, at times, felt like an ongoing dialogue with chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani, as a number of close calls went against him. Djokovic had used up all three of his second-set challenges by the middle of the eighth game. At the end of that game, after another close call on the baseline went against him, Djokovic raised his hands toward the heavens, showing another trace of frustration that rarely hits him.
Murray, meanwhile, kept his cool through it all, even if the sweat that drenched his Wimbledon-white shirt made it nearly see-through at times.
In addition to the trophy, Murray earned 1.6 million pounds ($2.4 million) and got that long-awaited invitation to the black-tie champion’s dinner, set for later Sunday night.
”It was a privilege to watch (at)Andy-Murray making history at (hash)Wimbledon, and making Britain proud,” tweeted the prime minister.
Indeed, on this day, the hoorahs were coming from every corner of the kingdom.
”I can confirm,” a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said, ”that the Queen has sent a private message to Andy Murray following his Wimbledon victory.”