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Sports

July 7, 2013

Murray ends Brits' drought at Wimbledon

LONDON, England — Andy Murray needed one more point, one solitary point, to win Wimbledon — a title he yearned to earn for himself, of course, and also for his country.

Britain had endured 77 years since one of its own claimed the men’s trophy at the revered tournament referred to around here simply as The Championships, and now here was Murray, on the brink of triumph after 3 hours of grueling tennis against top-seeded Novak Djokovic under a vibrant sun at Centre Court.

Up 40-love, Murray failed to convert his first match point. And his second. And then, yes, his third, too. On and on the contest, and accompanying tension, stretched, Murray unable to close it, Djokovic unwilling to yield, the minutes certainly feeling like hours to those playing and those watching. Along came three break points for Djokovic, all erased. Finally, on Murray’s fourth chance to end it, Djokovic dumped a backhand into the net.

The final was over.

The wait was over.

A year after coming oh-so-close by losing in the title match at the All England Club, the No. 2-ranked Murray beat No. 1 Djokovic of Serbia 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 Sunday to become Wimbledon’s champion in a test of will and skill between a pair of men with mirror-image defensive styles that created lengthy points brimming with superb shot making.

“That last game will be the toughest game I’ll play in my career. Ever,” said Murray, who was born in Dunblane, Scotland, and is the first British man to win the grass-court Grand Slam tournament since Fred Perry in 1936. “Winning Wimbledon — I still can’t believe it. Can’t get my head around that. I can’t believe it.”

For several seasons, Murray was the outsider looking in, while Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic collected 30 out of 31 Grand Slam titles. But now Murray has clearly and completely turned the Big 3 into a Big 4, having reached the finals at the last four major tournaments he entered (he withdrew from the French Open in May because of a bad back). And he’s now a two-time Slam champion, having defeated Djokovic in five sets at the U.S. Open in September.

All this from a guy who lost his first four major finals, including against Federer at Wimbledon in 2012. After that defeat, Murray’s voice cracked and tears rolled as he told the crowd, “I’m getting closer.”

How prescient. Four weeks later, on the same court, he beat Federer for a gold medal at the London Olympics, a transformative victory if ever there was one.

“You need that self-belief in the important moments,” observed Djokovic, a six-time major champion, “and he’s got it now.”

Murray’s mother, Judy, who is Britain’s Fed Cup captain, agreed the setback 12 months ago “was a turning point in some ways.”

“Every time you have a really tough loss, a loss that really hurts you,” she said, “I think you learn a lot about how to handle the occasions better going forward.”

Murray trailed 4-1 in the second set Sunday, and 4-2 in the third, before wiggling his way back in front each time.

He won the last four games, breaking for a 5-4 lead when Djokovic flubbed a forehand, setting off a standing ovation and sustained applause from the 15,000 spectators that lasted more than a full minute. When he got out of his changeover chair, preparing to serve for the championship, an earsplitting roar accompanied his trek to the baseline.

Djokovic missed a backhand, Murray smacked a backhand winner and added a 131 mph (211 kph) service winner, and suddenly one point was all that remained between him and history. That’s where things got a tad complicated.

On match point No. 1, Djokovic capped a 12-stroke exchange with a forehand volley winner. On No. 2, Djokovic hit a backhand return winner off an 84 mph (135 kph) second serve. On No. 3, Murray sailed a backhand long on the ninth shot.

Now it was deuce.

“I started to feel nervous and started thinking about what just happened,” Murray said. “There’s a lot of things you’re thinking of at that moment.”

The match continued for eight additional points.

Seemed to take an eternity.

“Just how that last game went, my head was kind of everywhere. I mean, some of the shots he came up with were unbelievable,” Murray said. “At the end of the match, I didn’t quite know what was going on. Just a lot of different emotions.”

Any of Djokovic’s break points in that game would have made it 5-all, and who knows what toll that would have taken on Murray’s mind? But Murray erased the first two chances with a 116 mph service winner, then a forehand winner on the 21st stroke.

At deuce for a third time, Djokovic conjured up a forehand passing winner to get his third break point. Murray dropped his head and placed his hands on his knees. The crowd clapped rhythmically and shouted, “Andy! Andy!” They couldn’t know it, but their man wouldn’t lose another point.

On a 16-shot point, Djokovic delivered an overhead that was retrieved, then tried a drop shot that Murray got back. Djokovic put the ball in the net, and Murray was at match point No. 4. When that one went Murray’s way, the ball on Djokovic’s side of the court, Murray dropped his neon-red racket, yanked his white hat off and pumped both fists overhead, screaming, “Yes! Yes!”

Soon, Murray was climbing into the guest box for hugs with his girlfriend, his mother and his coach, Ivan Lendl, who won eight major titles as a player but never fared better than the runner-up at Wimbledon.

“I didn’t always feel it was going to happen,” Murray said. “It’s incredibly difficult to win these events. I don’t think that’s that well-understood sometimes. It takes so much hard work, mental toughness, to win these sort of tournaments.”

It took 77 years for a British man to win this particular, prestigious tournament.

And Murray was the one to end the wait.

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