In those few minutes when he increased further the moisture count at Wimbledon, Murray became the darling of not just Centre Court, but also a watching nation. He changed from the thrawn, miserable Scot to one who was now bubbling on Sue Barker’s shoulder. What was being let out there? The disappointment of losing a first Wimbledon final, sure. But pouring from him was also the tension that comes from knowing that an entire nation is willing you to do something that is verging on the impossible. His task yesterday had only been to end a 76-year wait for a Wimbledon men’s champion by beating the finest player the sport of tennis has produced. He came up very slightly short.
He spoke later of needing a few days away from the game to come to terms with everything, as if this was something he needed to apologise for. Most of us would need to book ourselves in for a few months’ worth of trauma counselling had we just endured the sustained stress he had.
So where do we go for a reference point if we can’t use landmark British victories as a comparison to what had been hoped would be a first home Wimbledon champion since 1937? Gazza’s tears from 1990 is an obvious one. They helped turn the nation back onto a sport as well as persuading many to take a daft Geordie to their hearts. Murray shares few traits with Gazza but he has known how it feels to see something special slip through his fingers. With Gazza, things kept on slipping. Murray has to find a way to respond to a fourth failure at a showpiece tennis occasion. This one had to hurt worst of all, however. He didn’t have to say that it did. We could see it in the time it took to compose himself at the end. But his conduct had been exemplary throughout this tournament, and even now he wasn’t putting a foot wrong. He was showing us how it feels.
Let’s have no more talk of the British and happy losers, of Scots and glorious failure. Murray had put everything into this. He threw himself around the court and refused to accept defeat until that last return had flashed into the tramlines. He declined the opportunity to parade his runners-up silver plate. Simply reaching a Wimbledon final had been historic enough but it didn’t matter much to Murray in the final analysis. This winner’s mentality will surely stand him in good stead. Even Federer recognises him as a champion-in waiting.
“He’ll win at least one Grand Slam,” he told the spectators, after Murray had gone to him following his own tears-interrupted interview, and hugged his tormentor. Who said they don’t get along? It had seemed impossible that Centre Court could ever throw up anything as moving as Goran Ivanisevic embracing Pat Rafter at the net after his own win in 2001, but here we were again, fumbling around for our hankies.
It had been a long, emotional ride. It was more than four hours since the protagonists had arrived on court. Can much be gleaned from the way the players walk on? Murray gave every amateur sport psychologistspsychologists plenty to muse about with his decision to carry his racket in his hand as they emerged, at 2pm on the dot. It was the ultimate statement of intent. As though it were his Excalibur, he didn’t want to be parted from it.
Murray was a man with a mission. But did he have a plan? The contrast with Federer was striking. The Swiss was resplendent in a crisp white tracksuit top which he very deliberately peeled off after sitting down at his chair. It was replaced by an equally debonair cardigan at the end.
With the casual air of someone going about his domestic chores at home, he then fetched a bottle of water from the fridge beneath the umpire’s chair. There was no question that Murray looked the more pent-up of the two, understandably. This, after all, was Federer’s eighth Wimbledon final. Not only was it Murray’s maiden appearance, it was the first time a Briton had set foot on this rarefied stage since 1938.
Murray was very much in the zone as he took the first set. Did he even notice that up in the Team Murray box his mother and father, a long time divorced, were sitting just a seat away from one another, in a warming show of near-unity. Judy had tweeted about her deliberations over what to wear. She opted for a tartan jacket. Looking around Centre Court, there were a few Scotland football tops, a couple of rugby ones with ‘Murray’ rather conveniently writ large across the front. But there were fewer Saltires than perhaps expected, something which Alex Salmond, the First Minister, might have noted from his perch in the Royal Box, where he sat just behind the Prime Minister, David Cameron.
The braying fools were out in force, too. What is it about the hush of a tennis court that prompts so many humourless interjections? Here we were at the acme of tennis, where seats have been exchanging hands for many thousands of pounds, and someone decides to pierce the reverential hush rightly granted two players performing their socks off, with “I love you Pippa!”. This declaration was meant for Pippa Middleton, who sitting alongside her sister, Kate, in the Royal Box. Their mother, sitting just along from the Press area, simply shook her head.
The players were probably as oblivious to this as they were all the glitter-dust. The celebrity count was exceptionally high among the 14,000 spectators crammed into the court. David Beckham looked on from the Royal Box, next to a fidgeting Victoria. When the roof came on, she resolutely refused to remove her sunglasses. Even Ivan Lendl had taken his off for Part Two of the final, played out at an even greater intensity. By this time, Murray was being made to dance to Federer’s tune. The high hopes that were encouraged by Murray taking the first set had begun to fade.
A ridiculously absorbing 20-minute game which saw Federer secure a break of serve after Murray had been 40 love up was a crushing blow to the Scot. “I am getting closer,” he said, voice cracking with emotion, as we all brimmed up at the end. And so he is.