WAS it really only four weeks ago that Andy Murray, having lost a fourth Grand Slam final, said that he would need some time out to recover, both mentally and physically?
“I’m getting closer,” he said after taking a set in a major final for the first time, but he also talked of how emotionally bruised he was by that defeat at the hands of Roger Federer. He did not even mention the Olympic tennis tournament then, wanting to look no further forward than the following day, when he would be on a beach in Florida, resting his weary limbs and emptying his mind of all the clutter that accumulates over the course of a fortnight-long tournament. Back then, on the evening of 8 July, the 25-year-old looked like he would happily stay on that beach until Wimbledon 2013. Instead, here he was, just four Sundays later, not only playing in another final, but beating Federer, and in straight sets at that, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
Murray has always been a very resilient and determined character, but this past week he has taken those qualities to new heights. Dogged in his quarter-final victory over Nicolas Almagro, a match in which he played some way below his best, he was inspired at times in his semi-final against Novak Djokovic. And yesterday he was better still, albeit against an opponent who had been drained by his own semi-final, a win over Juan Martin del Potro which included a deciding set of 36 games.
The transformation in Murray’s mood says a lot for his powers of recovery, but the subtle differences between this tournament and the Championships also played a part. This was Wimbledon, with the same purple-and-green colour scheme, but with a lighter touch. There is a little less ceremony and a bit more showbiz. The Captain by Scottish band Biffy Clyro was belted out on the PA system on Centre Court just before the match, and so, inevitably, was The Clash’s London Calling. You don’t get that when the All-England Club are in charge. More pertinently, at this Olympic Wimbledon, there was no burden of history weighing Murray down. No reminders about how many years had elapsed since Fred Perry became the last Briton to win the men’s singles. And, with so many other sports going on at the Games, and Great Britain faring so well, no focusing of the angst of an entire nation on one young man’s bid to win. And so Murray came on to court, and played in a relaxed manner, and for all the world as if he were in an exhibition match. He served well, returned well, chose his shots well. In short, he got pretty much everything right. There was the mildest of wobbles in the opening game, when he had to save two break points, but, once that was out of the way, he soon had the upper hand. Federer, having saved a break point himself in the fourth game, was under more severe pressure in the sixth as he struggled to come to terms with the cool breeze. A poor return into the net saw the Swiss player go 4-2 down, and he was broken again two games later.
That breeze was another factor in Murray’s favour, and one which had been annulled a month earlier when the roof was closed because of rain near the start of the third set. The precision of Federer’s shotmaking needs still conditions to function properly and there was no doubt in that match that the closure of the roof helped him gain the upper hand. But, yesterday, it was Murray who was benefiting from a little good fortune, such as the three net cords which all went his way. There was nothing fortunate, however, about the manner in which the world No 4 seized control of the second set. It was all down to a consistently high standard of play.
The third game of that set was the crux of the match; the one which, had Federer won, could have turned the whole contest in his favour. Murray, having gone 2-0 up, was 0-30 down on his serve as Federer sprang back to life. At 15-40 down he was in trouble again, but he saved those two break points, then another four more, to extend his lead to 3-0. It lasted almost 15 minutes, and evoked an even longer game in last month’s final, when Murray was broken to go 4-2 down in the third. There was no way back for the Scot after that, and yesterday it was a similar story for Federer. He lost two more games to go 5-0 behind – that made nine in a row to Murray – and, although he avoided the embarrassment of losing a set to love, he was soon two sets down. Still we waited for some sort of fightback from Federer. But, instead, he went down tamely in the third set, failing to force a single break point as Murray marched to the title. The Scot claimed it with an ace, and, after falling to the floor, set off on the old Pat Cash route up to the competitors’ box, where he embraced every member of his entourage before turning heading back to the court. On the return journey he even found time to hug a random small boy who had run down from the top of the stands and wanted to join in the celebrations.
Not that there was much time for them, because Murray had to return to action within the hour. But there was time for the medal presentations, with Del Potro winning bronze after beating Djokovic in the play-off, and for the national anthem. And, for all that he was in a rush yesterday, there will be time now for Murray to reflect on his remarkable turnaround over these last four weeks, and on the biggest win of his career to date. One which makes even bigger wins all the more likely.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South