HE did it, and he did it in style.
In an extraordinary straight-sets match watched by 15,000 people on Centre Court, many more on the big screen and millions around the country, Andy Murray beat Novak Djokovic yesterday to become the first British winner of the men's singles final at Wimbledon for 77 years. His victory, achieved over three hours and 10 minutes, was not only momentous for tennis, finally ending the long drought since Fred Perry last won the men's trophy for Britain in 1936, it confirmed Murray's reputation as one of the world's greatest tennis players, a supreme athlete and a great Scot.
In retrospect, looking back through Murray's career, there might appear to be a sense of increasing inevitability and destiny about his route to yesterday's win, but destiny had nothing to do with it. It was all hard work. The young man from Dunblane has been a professional player since 2005 but in his early days, there were some who saw him as moody and lacking in stamina; they doubted whether he had the legs to last long matches. It's also fair to say it took a while for some tennis fans, particularly English tennis fans, to learn to love him after following the charming Tim Henman for so many years.
But Murray worked and worked, latterly with the no-nonsense Ivan Lendl as his coach, and in the last two years, the slog has paid off spectacularly. Last year, he defeated Roger Federer in straight sets to win gold in the men's singles at the London Olympics, becoming the first British champion in more than 100 years. Then later in the year he won the US Open, the first British player to do so since 1936. There were always some commentators who said Murray could win Wimbledon one day. Last year, more and more of us started to believe it.
More importantly, Murray seemed to begin to believe it himself and demonstrated that he had become a master of the emotional as well as the physical side of tennis. In the moments that mattered yesterday, he didn't freeze. Both men refused to give in, and played some brilliant tennis, but Murray in particular stayed as focused as a laser, keeping cool after losing three championship points.
What he has also learned is to refuse to be defeated when all seems lost. In the quarter final, he stormed back from two sets down against Fernando Verdasco. He showed the same focus in the semi against Jerzy Janowicz when the roof was closed at a final point in the match. Other players would have wobbled. Murray stayed firm.
After that semi-final clash, Janowicz appeared to suggest that the cheering, enthusiastic British crowd would give Murray an advantage but that misses the point. Yes, it must be wonderful to have so many fans cheering you on but for years – decades more like – British players have felt the pressure of that expectation too. As Djokovic himself put it yesterday, all that pressure on Murray makes it all the more extraordinary that he did win and so decisively too. It was a wonderful victory, in glorious sunshine, and it has smashed those few remaining doubts that Murray could do it. It has also confirmed the Scotsman as one of the greatest athletes this country has ever produced. And there's even a bonus for those of us who watched it at home or down the pub: for a while at least, it's made us all a little bit happier and more optimistic.
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