London 2012 Olympics: Darling of Centre Court basks in the glory after ‘biggest win of my career, for sure’
IF A week is a long time in politics then clearly four weeks is a lifetime in tennis. Just a month ago, Andy Murray left Centre Court in tears, beaten in four sets by Roger Federer.
Yesterday, he marched off court as the Olympic champion, the 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 winner over that man Federer, and as a completely different player.
For a little under two hours, he had controlled the match, bossed the world No1 and played each point with purpose and confidence. Apart from a couple of games at the very start of the match as he settled into his stride, he looked fearless and nerveless. When chances came, he took them; when Federer tried to work an opening, he slammed it shut. This was the performance of a true champion.
“When I look back on the match, it will be one that I’ll look at as the biggest win of my career for sure,” he said quietly. “It’s definitely one of the best matches I’ve played. I dealt with all the situations that were in front of me well. I took my chances today. I think I deserved to win.”
When he did win, he looked stunned. Everything he had set out to do, he had accomplished. After four bitter defeats in grand slam finals, he had at last got his hands on one of the most treasured prizes in sport, not just in tennis. From being unable to look at his family and his team after the Wimbledon final for fear of bursting into tears again, he went over to embrace everyone in the players’ box. In a show of sportsmanship, Tony Godsick, Federer’s agent, helped him up onto the top of the commentary box so that he could walk over and hug his girlfriend Kim Sears, his father Willie, his mother Judy, and every one of his support team.
“The people that were in my box, they see everything,” he said. “When people watch on the TV, they see the matches, they see your interviews before and afterwards. They don’t see the hours on the practice court or everything you do in the gym. The guys that are up there are the people that see that. That’s where all the work’s done.
“Kim understands tennis very well. Her dad’s a tennis coach. Having her around after the Wimbledon final, which was obviously a very tough loss for me, was great. She helps pick me up. She was the only person really I saw for about four days after the final. Having her around helps. I’ve had a lot of tough losses in my career. So being able to go up to them after a match like today is great.
“Just to win today, in the way that I did, makes those other losses a little bit easier to take. Just to keep coming back from them, as well, because it has been tough at times. But that’s why getting to spend that moment after victory with the people around you that have seen all of those losses and how tough it’s been makes it special.”
The missing member of the team was Ivan Lendl, Murray’s coach, but he has been in touch by phone, e-mail and text all week. It was Lendl who talked the Scot out of any post-Wimbledon slump and it was the stone faced former world No.1 who taught him how to use that experience to his advantage. Lendl lost his first four grand slam finals before he discovered the knack of winning big matches. And he ended up with eight major trophies. “Ivan told me after the Wimbledon final that he was really happy with the way I played the whole tournament,” Murray said. “He’s never been around a British player during Wimbledon, so he maybe didn’t quite know what it was like. He was saying, I’ll never play in a match under that much pressure again in my life. So that’s good news. I did feel much more relaxed going into today’s match than I did going into the Wimbledon final.
“Having someone like Ivan around after that Wimbledon final was very important, as well, someone to talk to about the emotion, how it feels. He understands all of that. I spoke to him before today’s match about the tactics, going over a little bit what happened at Wimbledon, used it in the right way instead of negatively, which in the past I’ve certainly done after a few of the Grand Slam finals. I’ve actually used it in the right way to become a better player. I hope that that showed today.”
When Murray lost in his opening match at the Beijing Olympics, he was devastated. Being a part of the British team in China meant the world to him and as the GB medals were chalked up on the medals table, he desperately wanted to do his bit for team honour. This time, he has made a massive contribution with one gold and one silver – now he is an Olympian and a deserving part of the Games euphoria that has gripped the country. “I watched the athletics last night,” he said. “It was unbelievable. Watching Mo Farah after 9,600 metres, run a 400 metres in 53 seconds – when I’m completely fresh, I can only run one in 57 seconds – is amazing. It just gave me motivation to try to win that gold medal. You see how much it means to all of the athletes when they do it, how much work goes into it. I just obviously wanted to try and be part of that if I could. I’m just glad I’ve been able to contribute to that.”
But there is no rest for a champion. From SW19, he is off to Toronto for the Rogers Cup – although whether he actually plays there remains to be seen – and in three weeks he must be ready for the start of the US Open. But with his Olympic medals in his pocket, he will go there as a better, more experienced champion than the man who has yet to get his hands on a grand slam trophy.
“I think come US Open time,” he said, “that this will have given me the confidence to go in there and believe in myself a bit more than I have in the past and give myself a shot at winning there.”
Then again, given the choice between a grand slam title and the shiny gold medal that he entrusted to his pal Dani Vallverdu (Murray made him wear it during the mixed doubles final because he did not want to leave it in the locker room), the answer was very clear. “I would love to win Wimbledon,” he said with a smile. “But this felt good. I wouldn’t change this for anything right now, that’s for sure.”
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