US Open: Marathon Ends Drought for Murray and Britain
Late Monday night at the United States Open, Sean Connery danced and Kevin Spacey clapped and the capacity crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium stood and roared in unison. Andy Murray, Scotland’s perennial tennis bridesmaid, covered his mouth with both hands, suspended in disbelief.
The crowd cheered for Murray, for Britain, for the tennis history it witnessed for nearly five hours. When the match ended, after Novak Djokovic
’s service return sailed long, Murray had become the first British man to capture a Grand Slam singles championship since Fred Perry in 1936.
The final score was 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2. All of Britain, or so it seemed, heaved a sigh of relief. Its men’s singles drought, which started when Perry was just a tennis champion and not a name behind a clothing brand, had ended.
The match lasted 4 hours 54 minutes, tying the record for the longest Open final. The 1988 version, between Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl, Murray’s coach, lasted the same amount.
When he served for the match, Murray said he felt “a sense of how big a moment that is in British tennis history.”
“I know more than most,” he added. “I’ve been asked about it many times.”
As he stood on the doorstep, three games from his first Grand Slam title, Murray scowled. His expression matched the wind that made for the most unpredictable of finals and the weight he felt from seven decades’ worth of hope and despair and close-but-not-quite that rested on his shoulders.
Murray complained, over and over, that his legs felt like jelly, a combination of nerves and fatigue. Djokovic, the defending champion, kept coming, kept sliding, his shoes squeaking, until after 306 points each player had won exactly half.
He stared down all of that, Murray did, fatigue and history and wind and doubt, and he elevated his play when it mattered most. His service break early in the fifth set lobbed some of that pressure back at Djokovic. All that remained was for Murray to hold on.
As he served for the decisive set, one of his offerings clipped the far corner of the service line, a sliver of the edge and nothing more. That seemed like more proof of Murray’s moment, his final, his tournament, his summer, one that included a runner-up finish at Wimbledon and an Olympic gold medal.
Later, Murray sat behind the silver championship trophy and tried to explain how it felt to break through. Already, Twitter congratulations had poured in from the likes of Rory McIlroy and Russell Crowe. Yet Murray sounded more exhausted than elated, his face drained, dark bags underneath his eyes.
He listed all the challenges he faced in recent days, mostly from the conditions, the wind and the rain and even a tornado warning on Saturday. Then there was the matter of playing in a Grand Slam final. Then there was the fact he had never won one. Then there was Djokovic, a player who had lost one set all tournament.
“Well, I proved that I can win the Grand Slams,” said Murray, who admitted feeling nervous before the match. “I proved that I can last four and a half hours and come out on top against one of the strongest guys physically that tennis had probably seen, especially on this surface.”
To summarize his feelings in one word, Murray used “relief.”
“Everyone’s in a bit of shock, to be honest,” Murray said. “I’m sorry if I’m not showing it as you would like.”
Lendl is Murray’s coach, the only other player in the Open era to fall in his first four Grand Slam singles appearances. When Murray won, as bedlam broke out around him, Lendl hardly cracked a smile, his demeanor icy until the end. Lendl ultimately won eight Grand Slam singles titles, but knew as well as anyone which one proved the hardest to obtain.
So did Djokovic. “I want to congratulate Andy for his first Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “He absolutely deserves it.”
This match, the first Grand Slam final contested without Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal since Djokovic and Murray played for the Australian Open in 2011, pitted rivals, both 25, born a week apart. They first played each other at 11.
Djokovic said Murray won that contest. Djokovic triumphed in their first two meetings in Grand Slam tournaments. Murray, though, took their most recent meeting, in the semifinals of the Olympics.
At the outset, on another wind-whipped afternoon in Queens that felt more like British Open golf weather, the conditions appeared to favor Murray. He played a semifinal Saturday against Tomas Berdych under similar conditions, the most extreme of his career, while Djokovic stumbled in the same wind tunnel against David Ferrer only to regain his footing when play resumed Sunday.
In the first-set tiebreaker, each of Murray’s six set points proved its own adventure. On one, he short-armed a backhand approach shot into the net. On another, he badly shanked a forehand. On the final one, he seemed displeased with a let call, then unleashed a serve that Djokovic failed to return.
The first set lasted nearly 90 minutes. Murray won the tiebreaker, 12-10.
That seemed to temporarily rattle Djokovic, who started the second set with a flurry of unforced errors that prompted several conversations — with himself. Murray led, 4-0, in what seemed like an instant.
All of Britain — along with the pro-Murray crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium — began to dream at that point. At least before Murray added to their consternation.
Djokovic crept back into the contest, just when his chances seemed most dim. His lob over Murray’s head tied the second set at 5-all.
Again, Murray recovered. Again, he pelted Djokovic with a variety of shots, with topspin forehands and sliced backhands, with net charges and drop shots. On set point, Djokovic missed a forehand wide.
Murray did not dare let out too much emotion, even if every person in the building could feel the history within his grasp. In his previous four Grand Slam finals, Murray won one set. Not one set in each match. One set, period. Here, he led two sets to none.
A nation held its breath.
Throughout the past two weeks, as Djokovic cruised into the semifinals, Murray advanced on shakier footing. He looked unbeatable in some matches and very beatable in others.
Regardless, he continued to insist that his Olympic victory had relieved some of the ever-present pressure from years of questions about his failure to win a Slam. He acknowledged he “maybe had less doubts about myself and my place in the game” afterward. One last goal remained: to win a major tournament.
The stars seemed to align in New York. Nadal withdrew before the Open started, citing a knee injury. And while Murray was in Federer’s half of the bracket, Berdych upset Federer in the quarterfinals. Only Djokovic stood in Murray’s way, and even Djokovic said Murray increased his aggression over the summer, becoming “one of the most complete players in the world.”
In the third set, when Murray seemed on the verge of a complete victory, Djokovic awakened. He won that set and the fourth, as Murray complained often about his legs, until “jelly” trended on Twitter worldwide.
Eventually, Murray recovered and won and knelt down, his hands covering his face. It was past 2 a.m. in Britain, but the party, prompted by Murray’s stamp on his place among tennis royalty, as a legitimate threat moving forward, had only started.