Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Heroic Andy Murray serves up a special moment slaying Djokovic at Wimbledon

It doesn't get any better than this triumph

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 07:  Andy Murray of Great Britain poses with the Gentlemen's Singles Trophy following his victory in the Gentlemen's Singles Final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 7, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Andy Murray of Great Britain poses with the Gentlemen's Singles Trophy following his victory in the Gentlemen's Singles Final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia on day thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 7, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Forget extra-time at the World Cup, dismiss Jonny Wilkinson's winning penalty in 2003 and don't even mention Seve's putt at St Andrew's in 1984.

To feel sheer gut wrenching tension and to witness the ability of one man to triumph over the most stifling, throat tightening pressure, Wimbledon's Centre Court yesterday at 5.25pm may now be the place to say we bore witness to the greatest of the greats.

By ending 77 years of British sporting hurt, Andy Murray didn't just win the nation's first Wimbledon men's title since 1936, he did it by carrying millions of us on his back, groaning, cheering, clapping, bordering on hysteria. Sometimes you almost felt him stagger under the weight of us.

Towards the end of his win, under a clear blue sky and in blistering 100 degree temperatures, he had to blot out of his mind the collective sucking in of breath that would have made those not superhuman crumble.

How he tossed the ball for serve towards the end only the 26-year-old Scot will know. Perhaps no other sports star in the world could have dealt with that sort of burden in the theatre of dreams.

The record books might suggest a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 win in the final was, relatively for this intense sport, pretty straightforward. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Across the net was the world No.1 Novak Djokovic, a player of breathtaking athleticism who does not know what it is to throw a hand up in surrender.

And so it came down to exactly 5.25pm as these two prizefighting champions (boxing parlance seems so cliched a way to describe them but no other sporting analogy will do) stood across the net from each other, the blistering sun only now starting to lengthen their shadows. Murray had unbelievably, by sheer force of will, forced himself back into a third set that the number one seed had taken a 4-2 lead in.

Now it was 5-4, Murray having broken back in the previous game with a stunning run and get from a Djokovic drop shot that took the wind from the Serbian's sails.

Heavy oppressive air hung over the Centre Court, brains were boiling, and suddenly the sport of tennis seemed unmatchable for competitiveness stretched to its limit and sheer drama.

A sport most of us only fall in love with for two weeks of the year and for the rest is played behind high fences, mostly by the privileged, seemed so obviously the most exciting in the world. 15-0 Murray, 30-0 Murray, screams of anticipation in the air. Wait, an overhit Novak forehand, 40-0 Murray and three Championship points.

The last time you could say that, Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister and a man called Hitler was beginning to make waves over the Channel. But wait. Now the tension is unbearable. Does Murray think about what he's having for tea tonight? Better not think about 20 million people on the edge of their seats. And then that terrible thing with tennis. Total silence.

Just one man, not a team, one man has to deliver. And will be judged a choker if he doesn't. Not sure how much pressure was involved in being the first man on the moon but right now being Andy Murray would be up there, too. And, of course, Djokovic is Djokovic. 40-15, 40-30, a terribly weak second serve by Andy, cramped with fear.

Then 40-40, an over hit forehand. Advantage Djokovic and suddenly all of us are writing different headlines in our minds. 'Remember those three Championship points Andy Murray bottled that year in Wimbledon?', we would forever say. Murray somehow saves, keeps himself in this soon to be historic game, perhaps fearing, as we do, that he must win here or Novak will pounce, steal away his dream, perhaps forever.

One of the greatest collapses of all time is on the cards. Somehow Murray climbs his own personal Everest again, fending off two break points and we are at a fourth Championship point. A quick rally and Djokovic hits out. There is disbelief then the highest pitched roar Wimbledon has ever heard. Murray collapses to the floor. He staggers around. He can't believe it himself but that carpet and table are coming out, the dignatories are gathering. He really is Wimbledon champion.

And he deserves to be. Yesterday he beat the best player in the world because he played the best tennis. Watching Murray on court it is now clearer than ever that after last year's Olympic gold medal win here when he surfed the crowds, the public's love and support has changed him.

He cares little for the minor royalty and the Victoria Beckhams in the Royal Box and probably even less for the Prime Minister or the First Minister of Scotland who opportunistically waved the Saltire after match point thinking it might get him two more points in the polls on the march to independence.

Murray dismisses all that. It is the people who pay for their seats that he now has an unbreakable bond with. They have seen him through some scrapes already this Wimbledon and they were here again for him yesterday.

In truth this was not a classic match but it was a brutal one between two baseliners of astounding stamina and iron will power. In the first set, rallies averaged around five minutes, hugely punishing in one of the hottest Wimbledon final days ever. Murray spurned a great chance to break Djokovic in the very first game but made no mistake in the third with a searing back hand pass down the line. The Serb broke back but Murray came back again at him to break to love and take the seventh game and then even more crucially beat off break point to take a 5-3 lead. With the Murray first serve working well, he held to love to take the first set 6-4.

These were brutally long rallies with both men hugging the baseline but Djokovic changed tactics in the second set, pushing his man further back as he took risks to charge the net.

The Serb's drop shot was also to the fore as he raced to a 4-1 lead. But just as he did against Verdasco, Murray raced back, surviving an onslaught to hold the eighth game and breaking him in the 11th to go from 4-1 down to 6-5 up.

A comfortable service hold and we were beginning to dream. This really was remarkable guts from Murray.

In the third, Djokovic became rattled and his unforced error count started to go off the scale. By the fifth game he had reached 35 howlers, and his serve was easy pickings for the Scot. But still he forced himself to a 4-2 lead.

Breaks of serve were coming quickly, Novak holding on to the match with sheer willpower. At 4-4 Murray latched on to another Djokovic drop shot to race a forehand down the line, a stunning shot to break that brought the crowd to its feet.

Now we were at the denouement, the game which will be replayed many more times on our TV sets but hopefully not as a damning indictment of the next 77 years of British underachievement.

At the end, with Sue Barker's mic thrust at him, there were no tears, indeed he sounded like he was picking up an employee of the month award. He'd left everything he had out on the court. And that was more than enough.

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