BY the time Andy Murray walked out on Wimbledon's Centre Court yesterday, the whole of Britain was on tenterhooks, its nerves taut as racket strings.
Already the Scot had made history by becoming the first British player in 74 years to reach the men's singles final in this, the ultimate prize in world tennis. Could he go one further and become the first of them to lift the trophy since Fred Perry in 1936?
He could not, though at times he came tantalisingly close. In each of his three previous grand slam finals he was beaten in straight sets, including twice by his opponent yesterday, the remarkable Roger Federer. This time the Swiss player had to overcome Murray's early dominance and, for a time, the trophy could have gone to either man. Indeed line calls in tennis perhaps personify the fineness of the line between success and failure in this most enthralling of games. No other quite so much resembles the ancient tradition of single combat, in which two men fought to the death.
It is no insult to Murray to observe that he has the misfortune to have entered the top rank in the same generation of perhaps the three best players ever seen: Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. In his progress through this tournament, he displayed not only stamina, fitness and tactical awareness but also patience, aggression, focus and a will to win. The surest sign of a more mature, more measured Murray was demonstrated in his coming back to beat Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the semis, having lost the third set.
It is often observed that the London-based media have a habit of describing Murray as Scottish when he loses and British when he wins. Not this time. Though the 25-year old is not the classic hero that the Wimbledon crowd may have craved – his dry Scottish sense of humour is widely misunderstood – he has won their respect by battling for every point and not buckling under the strain.
It is important to remember how lucky we are to have Murray flying our colours, whether they take the form of the saltire or the Union flag. He is not the product of a coaching system that produces streams of young British stars but a genuine one-off, bursting with talent and ambition, who had to go to Spain to nurture his skills. Credit must go to his inspirational coach, Ivan Lendl, his father Willie and mother Judy.
In this era of tennis Titans, it is a huge achievement to reach a Wimbledon final. His tears of disappointment were understandable but we may not have seen the best of him yet. His name could yet adorn that Champions' Roll of Honour. He has done himself and his nation proud.
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