At some time after 2am last night, as I was slumped in an armchair and attempting to keep my eyes open (never mind follow the ball), Andy Murray won his maiden Grand Slam title in New York.
Even people who don’t know the slightest thing about tennis have heard this. ‘Snarling Scotsman suddenly snatches silverware’, or headlines – not – to that effect, have been everywhere, so it’s been pretty much impossible to miss.
When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France (the first Briton to win it in its history), there came a wave of ‘journey’ programmes about how a guy in a bike shop is 17% responsible for Brad’s yellow jersey prize. Expect the same, if not more, for tennis is an even bigger sport in the UK, almost as big as the number of years since our last Grand Slam champion. If nothing else, last night means that rolling tally (76 years) can be laid to rest. Finally.
Until those arrive, the BBC ‘how he got here’ article is worth a read. For one thing, it makes the point that – for all his on-court nonsense – he is really a decent enough person. Decent enough for a Scot anyway. (I’m Scottish, I can say that.)
I’ve hated Murray’s rise through the rankings as much as I’ve enjoyed it. For all the moments of brilliance – see his stunning comeback against Richard Gasquet, which I reckon got me properly interested in tennis – there were the grumbles and grimaces that accompanied his inevitable growing pains, as well as his idiotic ‘Anyone but England’ comments.
He has got better – either he himself has realised, or Ivan Lendl has hammered it into him, that his pouting and petulance would get him nowhere.
Even so, Djokovic, Federer and Nadal remained better players than him, at least in the matches that mattered. When Federer beat him in this year’s Wimbledon final, I looked at the sobbing wreck of a man and wondered what he had to do to beat the ‘big three’ to a Slam title. It would probably never happen.
Making a mockery of my pessimism, he took advantage of Nadal’s injury woes and Djokovic and Federer losing a little of their form and won Olympic gold. Something had finally clicked, be it in himself or in the circumstances which opened up to him.
And so we reached the US Open Final against Djokovic, who’d thumped him 6-4 6-2 6-3 the last time the two had contested a Slam final.
I was amazed by how well he started, and not so surprised by the way Djokovic came back. Murray won the first set, Djokovic lost the second, it seemed to me. Murray played well, make no mistake, but he often seemed cautious. Was he fearful of a repeat of his previous Slam final defeats? In any case, he got away with it, as the Serb made an uncharacteristic number of unforced errors to hand his opponent a two-set lead.
Those errors virtually vanished in the next two sets, as Djokovic roared back against a ponderous Murray. The third and fourth sets went to the Serb with an ease that had the Murray-ites doubled over in agony. So close.Again. There was no way back, surely?
But I imagine you know what really happened. Murray found something, whatever it was, and Djokovic was beaten back, and not even a very thorough leg rub could stop the Murray Express. (I was pretty much asleep by this point, so this is my somewhat imagined account of what happened.)
Finally. A British Grand Slam winner, and the end of Murray’s oh-so-nearly disappointments. The question on lips – almost as soon as Djokovic’s return of serve sailed long and Murray had lifted the cup – was, ‘what next?’ Is this the pinnacle for Murray, or only the beginning?
We cannot tell. But, whether he goes on from this point – he is only 25 after all – or not, I think I can answer the question Saint Sport Editor James Gray posed during Wimbledon: is this the year?
Yes, it is. I have forgiven Murray his earlier grumps and outbursts, as I believe most people have, and I hope that he grows in stature and his number of Slam titles from here. If he does, the year in which he reached his first Wimbledon final, claimed Olympic gold and then won the US Open, his first Slam, then this will have been the year in which his career turned significantly for the better.