• Wimbledon, Day 13

Delight for a nation, vindication for an individual

Alex Dimond
July 7, 2013
Andy Murray was the toast of a nation after his historic success © PA Photos

It was done in style, in a fashion befitting the man who made history.

Say what you want about Andy Murray - and many people have and, despite this landmark occasion, probably will still continue to - but he has rarely played around with the emotions of those who have supported him.

Tim Henman - the man whose relative failures 'Henman Hill' will forever be an unwitting monument to - reached four semi-finals at the All England Club in his career, but almost every match that preceded those near-miss occasions was similarly drenched with drama and nerve-wracking moments.

A straight-forward third-round meeting with relative no-namer Paul Haarhuis? Settle in, this one is going to 14-12 in the fifth…

Murray, however, has by-and-large avoided inflicting on the British public that sort of pain.

Wednesday's quarter-final against Fernando Verdasco aside, the world No. 2 was clinical on his route to Sunday's final against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic - beating opponents he was expected to with the relative comfort the form book predicted.

From the moment Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal departed SW19, it was almost demanded of Murray that he would reach the final. That he did so without making the watching audience emit too many groans was something we would all have been thankful for - had everyone not suspected that it was simply being saved up for the biggest challenge still to come.

Murray's last surprise for his fans, then, was that his crowning moment was relatively emphatic.

There was, belatedly, some hands-over-the-eyes drama on Sunday, but it only came on the verge of the historic conclusion - nerves created by the very real prospect of witnessing something truly momentous. The first two sets were certainly taut, fraught affairs but Murray was a deserved winner of both; Novak Djokovic perhaps feeling some effects of a gruelling five-set semi-final against the prodigiously powerful Juan Martin del Potro.

The third set was higher on raw quality, but Murray again edged matters - setting himself up to serve for the match and duly creating three championship points. Then, perhaps for the benefit of those too young to remember those nail-biting evenings watching Henman, came the stumble - as Djokovic saved all three of those chances with some truly outstanding service returns.

So came two break points, and the re-emerging fear that this near-fairytale could yet have a horror ending. For Brits who have endured so much sporting heartache, particularly in tennis, such a response is almost Pavlovian.

Many have helped Andy Murray to this success © PA Photos

But Murray is not Henman - something the Englishman will now be frequently reminded of - and an historic choke would not be unfurled. Both break points were saved and then, at the fourth championship point, history was made.

One great win for a man, one giant celebration for a nation. Or something like that.

"I won this for myself but I understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner," Murray, still on Centre Court, noted. "I hope you guys enjoyed this. I did my best!"

It cannot be overestimated how much this win means to a country. Thirteen million watched his semi-final win over big-serving Jerzy Janowicz; it can only be assumed that when the viewing figures for the final are released, that figure will be nearer to (or even beyond) 20.

To put that in perspective, 27 million people in the United States - a country with a population nearly five times that of Great Britain - watched the conclusion of the recent NBA Finals. Basketball is America's second most popular sport.

Almost everyone with access, or without a more pressing engagement (and, honestly, what could that really be?!) in this sceptred isle watched this match. Watched history be made. Watched someone finally join Fred Perry on his exalted stage.

But, similarly, we should not pretend that Murray did it for us. As he noted, he did it for himself - we just get to share in the delight.

After all, he made all the sacrifices. The victory celebrations are British, but this was a win that Murray had to go across the world to find the attributes required in order to clinch.

He had to learn the game in Scotland, an unusually-focused Dunblane child, and then hone his natural talent away from his family on clay courts in Spain.

Then, as a professional, he had to lose grand slam finals in New York, Melbourne and - yes - London before he learned how to win one, back in the Big Apple. In between those, he built up his fitness, stamina and resolve on the beaches of Miami - and won a gold medal to prove to himself that a win on Centre Court was within his grasp.

Around that was his carefully-crafted support team - starting all those years ago with mum Judy, but eventually complimented by the stabilising influence of girlfriend Kim Sears to go with hitting partner Danny Vallverdu, fitness guru Jez Green and, the final piece of the puzzle, unreadable coach Ivan Lendl.

"Ivan Lendl said he was proud of me which, coming from him, means a lot," Murray noted. "I think he believed in me when a lot of people didn't and he stuck by me through some tough losses and he's been very patient with me.

"It was tough speaking after the match, there are a lot of people who have worked with me over the last 10 or 15 years or so."

That groundwork all built towards Sunday's denouement - the end of a nation's 77-year wait for a home winner of its most popular tournament, but the best possible vindication of a 26-year-old's life work.

Heaped with extra expectation simply by virtue of his birthplace, he took that on his shoulders and still climbed the mountain - beating one of the best players in history to do so.

"Andy is tennis, Andy is Wimbledon for the UK," Sir Chris Hoy, the Olympian who knows a thing or two about expectation and winning, noted. "There is only one person really that expectation lies on.

"I was a member of a team so if I didn't succeed it wouldn't be the end of the world for the whole nation. I have no idea how he deals with that expectation. Now after 77 years we can celebrate a British winner of Wimbledon, fantastic."

Hopefully, amid the jubilance and jingoism, the man at the centre of it will come to truly appreciate his individual achievement.

"Winning Wimbledon, I can't get my head around that," Murray said. "I still can't believe it's happened.

"This one will take a while to sink in."

Andy Murray gave the people what they wanted © PA Photos
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