LONDON (AP) — 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 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 shots.
“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 29 out of 30 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. And 52 weeks later, on the same court, he beat Djokovic for the Wimbledon championship.
“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 that 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 applause that lasted more than a full minute. When he got out of his changeover chair, preparing to serve for the title, 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 exchange, 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!” He was looking directly at the corner of the stadium with benches for members of the press, a group that he used to worry helped fuel the intense pressure and only-one-way-to-satisfy-them expectations on Murray’s shoulders.
“It’s hard. It’s really hard. You know, for the last four or five years, it’s been very, very tough, very stressful,” Murray said. “It’s just kind of everywhere you go. 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.”
When a Brit did win, 15,000 or so spectators around the arena rose and yelled right back at him, some waving Union Jacks or blue-and-white Scottish flags. 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,” said Murray, who fumbled with his gold trophy after the ceremony, dropping the lid. “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.”
At the end, across the grounds, thousands responded with cheers while watching on a giant videoboard at the picnic lawn known as Murray Mount. And, surely, millions more following along on TV across Britain stood up from their sofas. British Prime Minister David Cameron was in the Royal Box, a sign of the day’s significance, and Buckingham Palace confirmed that Queen Elizabeth II sent Murray a private message afterward.
“The end of the match, that was incredibly loud, very noisy,” Murray said. “It does make a difference. It really helps when the crowd’s like that, the atmosphere is like that. Especially in a match as tough as that one, where it’s extremely hot, brutal, long rallies, tough games — they help you get through it.”
Said Djokovic, who famously ate blades of grass after winning Wimbledon in 2011: “The atmosphere was incredible for him. For me, not so much. But that’s what I expected.”
The fans were active participants throughout, lamenting “awwww” when Murray missed a serve; cheering rowdily when he hit one of his 36 winners, five more than Djokovic; shushing in unison when someone called out in premature agony or delight while a point was in progress.
That was understandable. Points rarely are over when they appear to be if Murray and Djokovic are involved. The elastic Djokovic’s sliding carries him to so many shots, while Murray is more of a powerful scrambler. It took a half-hour to get through the opening five games, in part because 10 of 32 points lasted at least 10 strokes apiece. And this all happened with the temperature above 80 degrees (27 Celsius), with only the occasional puff of cloud interrupting the blue sky.
Born a week apart in May 1987, Murray and Djokovic have known each other since they were 11, and they grasp the ins and outs of each other’s games so well.
“You’ve got to fight so hard to get past Novak, because he’s such an incredible competitor, an amazing athlete, and it’s never over ’til it’s over,” Judy Murray said.
This was their 19th meeting on tour (Djokovic leads 11-8), and their fourth in a Grand Slam final, including three in the past year. Both are fantastic returners, and Murray broke seven times Sunday, once more than Djokovic lost his serve in the preceding six matches combined.
In the late going, Djokovic was taking some shortcuts, repeatedly trying drop shots or rushing to the net to shorten points, but neither strategy tended to work.
“He was getting some incredible shots on the stretch and running down the drop shots,” Djokovic said. “He was all over the court.”
Admittedly feeling the effects of his five-setter Friday against Juan Martin del Potro — at 4 hours, 43 minutes, it’s the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history — Djokovic was far more erratic than Murray, with particular problems on the backhand side. Djokovic wound up with 40 unforced errors, nearly double Murray’s 21.
“I wasn’t patient enough,” Djokovic said.
Ah, patience. The British needed plenty when it comes to their precious, prestigious tennis tournament.
Thanks to Murray, the wait is over.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich