Andy Murray gives Wimbledon a home hero, at last
Because Murray has now won Wimbledon, he has also consummated his relationship with the British public, who for generations had been looking in vain for someone to elope with.
I didn't need Andy Murray to win Wimbledon this year or any other for him to convince me that he was a champion tennis player. However, millions of my countrymen did, and I'm happy for them.
I'm thrilled, of course, that he did it - for himself, for his family, his frequently photographed girlfriend, his coaching team and particularly Ivan Lendl himself who tried so hard to tame the capricious grass of south-west London as a player in the 1980s, but instead had to settle for eight Grand Slams on other surfaces.
If you rationally judge this particular achievement against Murray's two other landmark successes - last year's Olympic gold medal and subsequent maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open - you could quite easily argue that this was the least impressive of the trio.
Is that being overly cynical? I don't think so. This time 12 months ago, Murray was the biggest nearly man in tennis. A fourth defeat in a final of a Slam, and this time at Wimbledon, was heart-breaking for himself and his followers.
Then suddenly, it all clicked. In a matter of weeks, he had exacted revenge on Roger Federer by beating the Swiss at London 2012, before, in a marathon encounter timed at a shade under five hours, he put away defending champion Novak Djokovic in an epic finale in New York. Last year was the Murray breakthrough year, not this one. It was part of his normal progression that he should win Wimbledon this year, not some sort of miraculous end to a British curse that had lasted 77 years.
The importance of Wimbledon in the British summer is hard to overstate, however. And for that reason, Murray's straight-sets win over Djokovic on Sunday is extremely significant. The emotional investment that the British public places in its players during the fortnight is intense. The media, and not just the sports media, is awash with Wimbledon for every day of every week of the actual tournament, not to mention the inevitable "build-up" week when there's nothing to do except pontificate wildly.
To sum it up: Because Murray has now won Wimbledon, he has also consummated his relationship with the British public, who for generations had been looking in vain for someone to elope with.
In the past, some fairly moderate players like Buster Mottram (he got to the fourth round, once, in 1982) became headline acts for a brief while and then rapidly evaporated out of the spotlight. Ten years later, it was Jeremy Bates. Tim Henman, a natural grass-court player and a talented one, got people really excited when he reached four semi-finals.
But still, we kept on reminding everyone until they were sick of the name Fred Perry and the year 1936, that it had been an awfully long time since any British man had won Wimbledon - and I suppose it is a little embarrassing to put on a wonderful tournament and dish out so much kudos and prize money, for decades and decades, to people who are not British.
So yep, Murray had to do it. And he did. He did not play his very best; he didn't have to because Djokovic certainly played poorly. The Serb served weakly and tossed away points as freely as confetti with a regular sprinkling of unforced errors. He had a couple of spells in the second and third sets when he looked like the world number one again, but these proved to be dead-cat bounces.
Murray deserves credit. In unusually hot conditions, his court coverage was immense, his decision-making was smart, and he stayed patient and focused. When he plays Djokovic, it's often like watching two computer-generated clones play against each other as they attack and parry in turn, looking for weakness where there appear to be none. It's brilliant sport.
Djokovic came close to self-destructing in the second set during an ill-founded moan about line decisions. On the contrary, Murray plugged on gamely… and when some scorching returns from his opponent saw three Championship points come and go, he impressively refused to choke. Hanging on through a couple of deuces, he carved out another opportunity for the title, and this time seized it.
Will he win it next year too? He's likely to start favourite if he's fit. The funny thing is, for once nobody will mind quite so much because at last they don't have to hark back to 1936 and Fred Perry any more.
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