THE epic last game of Sunday’s Wimbledon men’s singles final has duly taken its place in the pantheon of great British sporting moments.
Those 12 nerve-shredding minutes captured in microcosm Andy Murray’s compelling three-hour battle of skills and wills with world No 1 Novak Djokovic, the torturous ebb and flow ending at 5.24pm with that unforgettable release of personal and national euphoria as the 77-year wait for a home champion was finally, mercifully and joyously brought to a cacophonous close.
Now Murray has admitted that had he not won that pulsating game in which he raced to 40-0, was pegged back to deuce, then saved three break points before watching a Djokovic backhand crash into the top of the net on his fourth championship point, he may not have recovered, and his grasp on the title he coveted above all could have slipped into the hands of an opponent he acknowledged in his winner’s speech as one of the all-time “great fighters”.
On a searingly hot London afternoon, Murray was seen gulping for air between points as the third set reached its unbearably dramatic crescendo and, writing in his column for the BBC Sport website, the new champion revealed: “I was OK at the change of ends before coming out to serve for the title, and I was just thinking: ‘This is where I’m going to hit my first serve on the first point.’ I know how important stats are when you win the first point on serve, so I was just concentrating on that.
“It wasn’t until 40-30 that I started to get nervous, and by the time Novak had break points it was panic time. I must admit that, if I’d lost that game, I don’t know if I’d have recovered.
“To come through was such a relief, and I can’t imagine I’ll ever feel pressure like that again.”
When Murray clinched his first grand slam title at the US Open in New York last September, he had also surged to a two-set lead over the Serbian dynamo, only to lose the next two before somehow conjuring, after that now famous comfort break, another titanic momentum shift in a life-changing decider.
“I really felt [the pressure] start to lift from my shoulders after the US Open win last year,” he explained.
“I felt so much more relaxed in the next few tournaments and, when I was on the practice court, I wasn’t getting agitated. I could miss a couple of balls and that was fine.
“I’m sure that will be the same this time and, hopefully, I can enjoy it even more.”
After a well-earned break, Murray now has a US Open defence and potential assault on the world’s top ranking (although he says trophies mean more to him than the No 1 spot) to focus on.
However, he could not help his mind from drifting forward to Monday 23 June 2014, when a by-then 27-year-old from Dunblane will be the first player to set foot back on the hallowed Centre Court lawn of the All England Club to formally open the tournament as men’s champion.
“One thing I can already look forward to is walking out on Centre Court on the first Monday next year as the Wimbledon champion,” said Murray.
“I just cannot imagine what that experience will be like.”
“There will be a lot of pressure and nerves but I don’t think it can be as bad as it has been the last few years.
“There’s so much history behind the whole tournament and I didn’t understand all that when I was young and growing up. I wanted to win Wimbledon but I didn’t realise everything that has gone on here over the years.
“The spectators will certainly do well to match the atmosphere on Sunday, which was the best I’ve experienced at Wimbledon.
“I’ve said all tournament that it helps so much, and I must give one final thanks to everyone for your incredible support.
“Hopefully we can do it all again next year – but I’m sure we could all do with some rest first!”