• Wimbledon, Day 13

Magnificent Murray delivers title a nation longed for

Alex Dimond July 7, 2013
Andy Murray: Wimbledon champion © AP

Andy Murray became the toast of a nation on Sunday - in truth, probably for the rest of his life - as he won the men's title at Wimbledon, ending the longest, most agonising wait in British sport in the most emphatic of fashions.

Eight years on from his encouraging All-England Club debut as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, and 77 years removed from the legendary Fred Perry's third and final title at the same venue, Murray defeated nemesis Novak Djokovic in three brutal sets to deliver a triumph at SW19 that a nation had begun to wonder if it would ever see again.

On a perfect summer's day over Centre Court, with the great and good of British society there to cheer the Scot on, Murray out-fought and out-thought perhaps his most familiar of foes on the way to landmark 6-4 7-5 6-4 triumph that will almost certainly define his career.

"I won this for myself but I understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner," Murray said after the trophy presentation. "I hope you guys enjoyed this."

With thousands watching out on Henman Hill - that monument to heart-wrenching home disappointments of years past - and millions more glued to television sets in homes, clubs and pubs around the Isles, the 26-year-old delivered a victory that perhaps only a World Cup win for England's football side would surpass in terms of national significance.

Clinching victory was not easy - but nothing so monumental ever is. With Murray serving at 5-4 in the third set Djokovic saved three championship points but, after then denying two break opportunities in the interim, the 26-year-old fired a blistering forehand cross-court that Djokovic could only bury into the net.

Cue nationwide celebrations.

"[It feels] slightly different to last year!" Murray, who lost to Roger Federer in four sets at the same stage 12 months ago, joked. "An unbelievably tough match - I don't know how I managed to come through it.

"That last game was unbelievable. That last point, I have no idea what happened."

In truth the final was not of the highest quality - high on intensity and energy, but equally burdened by unforced errors and uncharacteristic tactical mistakes - but that will be of little concern to the history books.

Murray still had to go out there and win the tournament, and - eventually - he did.

It was the home favourite (buoyed by roars that Boris Becker described as "the biggest I have ever heard" when he entered the arena) who came out far and away the brighter - finding himself with three break points in the opening game of the match after Djokovic struggled to hit the open court with his groundstrokes.

But the Serbian found a way to escape that early hole to hold after some impressive rallies, setting the stage for what was to come.

Murray's first game was hardly a relaxed affair, but compared to Djokovic he was positively cruising - the game's best player finding himself forced to save three further break points in just his second service game. But the fourth (Murray's seventh overall) would be taken, Djokovic burying a pressured forehand into the net as the crowd favourite gained the early advantage.

Not that it would last long - Djokovic breaking back immediately to restore parity at 2-2. It was an uncharacteristically inconsistent start from both players but, as the next two games would go with serve, they seemed to find a rhythm - with the rallies being extended and the unforced errors becoming a little less frequent.

That changed at 3-3, however, as a fine Murray passing shot built on two Djokovic errors to hand him a further break point. And the first of them would be converted; Djokovic netting a makeable backhand to fall behind again.

That messy service game would ultimately prove the difference in the opening stanza - even after Murray opened up his next service game with successive double faults. But he navigated his way out of that cul-de-sac to hold for 5-3 - and duly served to love at the next opportunity as he claimed first blood.

If the opening set was unfamiliar in its erratic standard of play - Djokovic had 17 unforced errors in its 59 minutes - then the second was a return to the form of the recent grand slam finals of the pair. No service holds came easily which, in the near 40-degree heat on Centre Court, made stamina a huge factor.

Djokovic edged ahead at 2-1 - again, capitalising on a few poor Murray shots with some wicked forehands - but Murray responded in kind at 2-4; squandering two break points with woeful groundstrokes into the net before the pressure led Djokovic to double fault on the third break point of the game.

Andy Murray played some exquisite tennis © Getty Images

Parity nearly was not formally restored - Murray saving a break point with an ace that HawkEye showed only caught a sliver of the line, before rescuing another again thanks to a clutch serve - but the Scot eventually found a way.

Re-energised by that recovery - and perhaps noticing, like many others on Centre Court, that Djokovic was not enjoying complete control of his own delivery - the US Open champion drove home his advantage at 5-5, creating two break points with a couple of pinpoint passing shots. The first came and went as a rare rasping serve from Djokovic left him a simple put-away but the second was taken, Djokovic dipping another forehand into the net to fall behind again.

Murray would subsequently make no mistake - sealing both a love-service game and the set with an ace - to give himself a two-set advantage, just as he did nine months ago at Flushing Meadows.

On that occasion Djokovic roared back with interest to force a decisive fifth set, a scenario that perhaps finally turned Murray - who responded so well to raised stakes - into the player he is now.

Perhaps underlining that growth, the Brit set about extending his advantage at the start of the third, breaking immediately as he forced his flustered opponent into corners he could not escape from.

A second break was there for the taking when Djokovic double-faulted to start his second service game of the stanza, but the world No. 1 found his truest form for a few minutes to avoid falling into a deficit that even he would not have been able to escape from.

Djokovic has long had a reputation for finding his best tennis when his back is most against the wall and so he showed that battling quality once again, breaking Murray from nowhere (after an agonising missed volley) to clamber back on third set terms.

Having been seemingly beyond redemption, suddenly it was the chaser with the momentum - as Djokovic broke for a second successive occasion after another Murray forehand bundled weakly into the net. But, yet again, he was unable to capitalise fully - giving up two break chances in his very next service game.

The first was saved with a throwback serve-and-volley combination but the second was not; Murray moving his opponent around the court and ultimately leaving him unable to get a reaching forehand back in play.

Andy Murray was a wildly cheered victory on Centre Court © Getty Images

Buoyed by that, and with the confidence of knowing he had done it so many times already in the contest, Murray broke Djokovic again - setting him up to serve for the match.

If the first two sets had been slightly lacking in quality, then by now the standard was as high as any match that had preceded it in the tournament. Three exquisite points created three championship-clinching chances - but Djokovic found two utterly ridiculous returns to somehow force a deuce.

Then came the Serbian's openings - two break point opportunities snatched away as Murray dug deep in two classy rallies. A third rally, sealed with a scrambling put-away, then created a fourth shot at history for Murray.

This would be the one that he took, the one that etched the young man from Dunblane somewhere near the very top of a country's proud sporting history.

A great serve immediately had Djokovic on the back foot and, after another probing forehand deep from Murray, the delicate noise of ball falling against net from the Serbian's end sparked the largest roar SW19 has perhaps ever heard.

"You absolutely deserve this win," Djokovic told his vanquisher in the aftermath. "You played incredible tennis.

"I am aware of the pressure he gets, and to pull up a championship this year is a great achievement. I gave it my all, it was an honour to be a part of this match."

For Murray, however, there was more than honour to savour: "I didn't always think it was going to happen. It's incredibly difficult to win these events. I don't think that's well understood sometimes.

"It's so hard to avoid everything because of how big this event is, but also because of the history and no Brit having won.

"It takes so much hard work, so much mental toughness to win these sorts of tournament."

© PA Photos
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Alex Dimond Close
Alex Dimond is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk