'Relief," said Andy Murray, "is probably the word I would use".
It was very probably the word several million people were using at two in the morning after five hours and too many years. And there was no shame, nor even the hint of an apology, in that.
The word was typical of the man: honest, to the point, and oddly modest. All summer long, delighted sports people have been reacting to this triumph or that by defining their moment as "unbelievable". You could grasp the intended meaning, just about, and still be none the wiser. This was different.
Murray was relieved to win the US Open final. Ecstasy, disbelief, amazement: all the usual hyperbole available in sport's limited vocabulary could wait. One word explained everything. Relief, a very humble sort of emotion, was paramount.
First, there was the British thing. At one point in the small hours someone recalled – who knows these things? – that Britain's hardy sons have been frustrated in 287 grand slam tennis tournaments since amiable Fred Perry made a rod for the national back in 1936. It will be a relief for all, finally, never to have to hear of old Fred and his record again.
More important was Murray's own liberation. He barely had to explain it. Amid all the Olympic celebrations and the politicians greedy for reflected glory, everyone chose to forget the burden of expectations, sometimes absurd, placed on young shoulders. Where insane pressure is concerned, Murray is a scarred veteran. Now, for a while, he is free. His relief will be immense.
At least for a while he won't have to listen to armchair experts asking when – they meant if – he would win a grand slam. His psyche and his temperament will be spared further analysis. He will be granted a pardon for the crime of being a chippy Scot whose supposedly questionable loyalty to GeeBee was linked, somehow, to what some were pleased to term his failure.
That detail is also worth bearing in mind as the congratulations flood in. Before fighting Novak Djokovic to a standstill in those five sets at Flushing Meadows, Murray was only – merely this – the most successful tennis player of any description produced in these islands since old Fred. But the 25-year-old was a Scot of a singular type, and his own man. He didn't fit the bill.
They didn't get him. They didn't get his jokes, far less his single-mindedness. They didn't get why he kept the Lawn Tennis Association – now rushing to claim its plaudits – at arm's length. They dismissed his volcanic eruptions and his agonised will to win as "petulance".
They didn't get why he advertised his Scottishness (even when it meant suffering Saturday's football match against Serbia). They said his willingness to hire and fire coaches was a cover for mental "fragility". They said he was hard to "love". They simply meant that, alongside a Mark Cox or a Tim Henman, they couldn't understand him.
Wimbledon and the Olympics illustrated the point. Forget the familiar, ritual transformation of a Scot into a "Brit" when occasion requires: it's harmless enough. But after Murray lost the Wimbledon final and won the gold against Roger Federer, there were many prepared to say he had been embraced by the home crowd. So why had they hesitated to begin with?
Murray approaches the world, and his sport, on his own terms. He does not strive to please. He makes a poor job of hiding his feelings, his opinions and his identity. His dealings with the media have improved somewhat in recent years – though that's not saying much – but there is not a single interview on record to suggest he would rather talk than play tennis. His image is not precious to him.
This ought to be cheering in a world full of manufactured personalities. If nothing else, it makes a change from all the sporting multi-millionaires who chatter as though each and every fan is a personal friend. Murray has been made to suffer, nevertheless, for being thrawn, for failing to smile on cue, for being what he is: an obsessive professional fixated on his goals.
Now he is vindicated. He has become the first British man to win a singles grand slam in three-quarters of a century, says the evidence, precisely because he has stayed true to himself, emotional warts and all. Had he succumbed to lovability, had he played the time-honoured game in the time-honoured manner of the tennis establishment, he would have joined the long list of noble, loveable failures.
Murray's win is a triumph for bloody-mindedness, for self-belief, for sheer determination. Small wonder he is relieved. The temptation to addictive self-doubt has been removed. All those who said he was "a choker", or too emotionally volatile to achieve the self-control a champion needs, have been refuted. And "refuted" is the polite word.
He did it the hard way, of course. Despite his talent, Murray has always done things the hard way. That, too, is testimony to his character. When things began to go wrong in the third and fourth sets at Flushing Meadows it would have been easy to falter, easy to surrender to the usual expectations. As it turns out, he was right all along: all those defeats, all those majors lost at the last, only made him stronger in the end.
Is there room for chauvinism in this, or will mere patriotism do? Does either explain a grand slam winner? Andy Murray did not take the title on the Arthur Ashe Court because he is a Scot. But being the Scot he is meant this time the prize would not be taken from him.
He should enjoy the balm of relief while he can. The can-he-do-it Wimbledon mania will resume momentarily, worse than before. This time, however, things will be different, no matter how intense the pressure. Because of who he is, this thrawn Scot, Murray can handle it now. And because of who he is, he will return to the Championships as a champion.
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