Andy turns Belfast City Hall lawns into a mini-Murray Mound
THE final game seemed to take for ever. But what's a few more minutes when you've been waiting 77 years for a moment like this? Belfast created its own sun-kissed Murray Mound yesterday as hundreds turned up in Belfast city centre to watch the Scot roar to a historic victory at Wimbledon.
It's not often the City Hall's big screen has so many pairs of eyes glued to it, especially when there are so many weather-generated counter-attractions.
But then it's not every day a British man has the chance to grasp the biggest prize in tennis, and you had the feeling local folk wanted to share and enjoy the historic moment.
It had been forecast that the eagerly-awaited showdown between Andy Murray and Serbia's Novak Djokovic was going to be one of the hottest SW19 finals ever – and tennis fans at City Hall got an inkling of how that felt as temperatures soared into the high 20s.
Yet almost everyone was prepared: sunglasses and summer hats, as well as umbrellas being converted into parasols, were de rigueur in Belfast yesterday.
A few sprigs of grass poked up through a sea of picnic rugs, brightly coloured, over-sized cushions and deck chairs.
Some who hadn't brought supplies made makeshift caps from newspapers, while others decamped to nearby shops to buy suncream.
And, after the grassy area was almost full to capacity, people sat on the concrete paving stones in the courtyard or watched the match from outside, standing behind the peripheral railings.
The sound of applause resonated around City Hall when the two players came on to centre court, and there were cries of "C'mon Andy".
Then there was a hushed silence as the first point of what turned out to be a three-set classic was played; a 20-stroke rally – rather unusual at the very start of a match, and won by Murray.
There was more clapping when the Dunblane man first broke Djokovic's serve in the third game, and it continued as the world's top two ranked players produced some of tennis's finest rallies as they fought to be Wimbledon men's champion.
By 3.15pm the 26-year-old Scot had taken the first set and there were murmurs that, perhaps, he just might be the first British man to win the illustrious tournament wearing shorts as Fred Perry was in full-length trousers for that last triumph back in 1936.
Throughout the excitement, the queue lining up for the Frozen Yoghurt stand never seemed to get any smaller – nor did the crowd of spectators clambering for room as the match approached its nerve-shredding climax.
Shopping sprees were abandoned, bike rides cut short and sightseeing trips put on hold in favour of the big screen and the beckoning of a historic moment in sport.
The atmosphere was jovial, yet nervous, after Murray took the second set. After last year's tear-stained defeat by Roger Federer, could this really be Andy's day?
They came from everywhere to find out; locals sat alongside friends from Scotland and England, were joined by natives from European countries and, as the match entered its final stages there were more than 1,000 people packed into the front end of the iconic building.
They all appeared to have one thing in common: a fervent desire to see Andy Murray beat the world's No.1 player and capture that elusive gold trophy.
When Murray served for the match just before 5.15pm, the crowd went wild, cheering, clapping and shouting.
That game turned out to be an endurance test in itself, as the 26-year-old squandered three championship points from 40-love up and then had to fend off three Djokovic break points.
After a gruelling three hours and 10 minutes, however – and after a broken Djokovic had found the net with a half-hearted return – the scoreboard said it all: 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.
The long, long wait was over, and Britain once again had a Wimbledon men's champion.
Amid the applause, tears were also shed by some ardent fans, including Greg Cameron (23), a deputy manager from Edinburgh.
"I am Andy Murray's biggest fan. I always believed he could do it! It was a brilliant game," said Greg, who now lives in Belfast. He watched the game with his girlfriend Shona McCotter (18), a waitress from Belfast, who had never seen a tennis match before.
"I really enjoyed it, but I'm £5 down because I bet Greg £5 that Murray wouldn't win," said Shona.
Londonderry man Stephen Corr, who works in a solicitor's office, said it was a brilliant achievement on Murray's part.
"Finally, after 77 years, it's great that there is British winner. I will always remember where I was when Andy Murray won Wimbledon," the 28-year-old said.
Account manager Gemma Stone (25) from Derry said she was blown away by the calibre of the Scot's tennis.
"To be honest, I didn't have much faith in him to begin with, but I'm so pleased he proved me wrong," she said.
Physics student Donald Evans from Ayrshire in Scotland said it was a fantastic match, although he admitted he didn't expect Murray to win.
"Last night I was going to put money on Djokovic winning, but now I'm glad I didn't," he said.
"Murray fought hard, it was a great match and he deserved to win.
"It was also fantastic to watch it here in Belfast in the sun."