The congratulatory messages have been swirling around every since Andy Murray became the first Briton to win a Grand Slam in 76 years. Andy Murray’s mom Judy has been thanked, his coach Ivan Lendl has received kudos as well, Fred Perry may finally become trivia. Murray can’t stop smiling. Hell, Britain can’t stop smiling either.
But before he forgets, Murray must thank Tomas Berdych – for without the Czech player’s victory over Roger Federer, his triumph may have remained a dream.
He must also thank his lucky stars for the knee injury that kept Rafael Nadal out of the competition.
Murray’s biggest stumbling block in Grand Slam tournaments in recent years has been the two champions. Against Federer, in three Grand Slams, Murray has never won. Against Nadal, he’s won two out of 8 matches at Grand Slams – but everytime he beat Nadal – he ran into Federer. And beating the both of them in the same tournament was too much to ask.
It happened at the 2008 US Open and 2010 Australian Open – he beat Nadal in the semi-finals only to get swamped by Federer in straight sets in the final.
But since 2010, he hasn’t been able to beat Nadal in a Grand Slam. Four straight losses – including three consecutive losses in 2011 starting with Roland Garros through to US Open – left him searching for answers.
“When you get so close to achieving really my last goal I had left to achieve in tennis is winning a Grand Slam, and when you have been there many times and not done it, it is easy to doubt yourself,” said Murray.
He added: “You’re still thinking, If I lose this one, no one’s ever lost their first five finals. I just didn’t really want to be that person.”
And in a sense, he’ll be glad that he didn’t have to run into his biggest doubts at the US Open. He might have beaten them anyway but it’s a problem you’d much rather avoid. Djokovic is good but he is the same age as Murray and their matches have almost always been even. There was no ‘awe’ factor.
Yesterday, the first set of the final against Djokovic lasted a full hour and 27 minutes. The entire match went on for four hours and 54 minutes. It was a gut-wrenching display of tough tennis by two of the finest players in the world. But the reason Murray won was simply because he had the energy to go head-to-head against one of the most physical opponents on the circuit.
“I was obviously very emotional. I cried a little bit on the court. You’re not sad; you’re incredibly happy,” Murray said after his win. “You’re in a little bit of disbelief because when I have been in that position many times before and not won, you do think, Is it ever going to happen? Then when it finally does, you’re obviously very, very excited. But mainly relieved to have got over that last hurdle.”
Now with the monkey off his back, he might find himself in a position to challenge all comers. The experience of winning a Grand Slam is unique and it often leads to a breakthrough. Murray will hope that is true for him too. From contender to champion – the confidence will drive Murray higher and we might only now get a glimpse of his true talent. For a long time, he was asked only one question: Why hasn’t he won a Grand Slam?
“You try not to think about it much when you’re playing, but when I was serving for the match, I realised how important that moment was for British tennis or British sport. It’s something that hasn’t happened for a long time obviously in our country, and I’m obviously proud that I managed to achieve it,” he said, adding with a laugh, “and I don’t have to get asked that stupid question again.”
But being successful in sport is also about being able to grab the opportunity when it presents itself. Federer and Nadal’s absence wasn’t Murray’s fault but he sensed a chance and grabbed it.
But at no moment must he believe that Federer and Nadal won’t be back. Djokovic will be itching to get even too. Men’s tennis was exciting enough as it was, but expect matches to get edgier. After all, they are all champions now.