He wasn’t just trying to win a tennis tournament. He was being asked – no, pleaded with – to save the country. The whole Brexit-bewildered, pound-plummeting, rain-ravaged, footballing-failing lot of it. Quite a job, that, for an overcast Sunday afternoon.
But just before 5pm Andy Murray did it. That is, he won the tennis – champion of Wimbledon again. He removed his cap, raised his fingers and gazed up to the heavens. At this moment the sodden sweatbands would normally then be flung into the crowd but Murray put his hands to his face and kept them there for a couple of minutes, apparently overcome by a triumph he wanted to feel, having been under too much pressure the first time, and of course he’s a different man now – a dad.
There was a nanosecond – the merest sliver of time, such as when you’re thinking how to return a 140 mph serve – when having composed himself, he looked like he was contemplating a little jig. Then he remembered that he’s a big Scots laddie, and quite a shy and self-effacing one.
Andrew Barron Murray was already almost certainly our greatest-ever sportsman for having won Wimbledon once and this second victory – 6-4, 7-6, 7-6 over Milos Raonic, the man firing those cannonballs – absolutely confirms it. For those who care about such things, the campaign to have him knighted begins right here. And as for those top posts which have fallen vacant in these tumultuous times, he can surely have his pick. Prime Minister? On you go, Andy.
The win took two hours and 47 minutes and Murray was magnificent throughout. Some might point to the absence on the other side of the net of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Not Murray’s fault, not his problem. Dunblane’s finest beat the man who beat Federer; the man who beat the man who beat Djokovic. A hulking Canadian with what some rate the most powerful weapon in tennis.
The scrutiny of our Last Best Hope has been intense. For two weeks Murray has had his sushi intake analysed. He’s had his dishwasher-stacking routine assessed, his petrol-filling routine too. There have been times when he must have felt like one of the Beatles, who were endlessly quizzed about where they bought their winklepickers and what they called their haircuts (with Ringo famously quipping “Arthur”).
Murraymania, though, makes for a fascinating post-grad study, never more so than right now. Who were those people rooting for his French and Czech opponents earlier in his run, but in the estuary-thick accents of jellied-eel sellers? Who would the Centre Court have supported if Swiss love-god Federer had got there? Who was backing the Yes-to-independence Scot at this most English of festivals? This is a confused, confusing moment in history for Britain, but we should say of the 2016 men’s final that every point won by Murray was greeted with a lusty cheer.
The crowd even cheered his warm-up and then the opening point, taken against the Raonic serve. The No 6 seed achieved 139mph that game; just a warm-up. When his opponent was next on serve Murray had a break after finding the baseline beautifully. But Raonic rescued the situation.
There were no other sniffs for a while; Raonic would win to love, Murray ditto. Once, a champagne cork popped just as Murray tossed up. “Shouldn’t think I’ll be hearing that sort of thing at Fir Park, Motherwell next week,” quipped the man from the Daily Record. And then, seventh game: breakthrough. A thrilling cross-court backhand on the run by Murray was the high point. The crowd exploded.
Murray held serve, despite a cough from the stands at an inappropriate moment. That merited a sharp glare and shake of the head from him. Back on his serve there was a shout: “Let’s be ’avin’ ya, Murray!” Maybe the jellied-eel seller had switched allegiance – wise fellow. Murray pushed Raonic far out wide with that super line-finding technology of his and after 41 minutes the first set was his.
First game of the second set Murray had a chance to break serve again on the back of yet another astonishing return but Raonic, whose serve had dropped to 116 mph, held on despite double-faulting. Murray’s only issue seemed to be with the ball-toss. But he didn’t get flustered or even gaze up once towards super-coach Ivan Lendl and continued to produce his share of aces.
Raonic had no interest in long rallies and maybe the final wasn’t a beautiful spectacle but Murray’s defence was sensational. Smart pick-ups produced the chance of a break, again in the seventh game, although this time he couldn’t take it.
Then an absolutely out-of-this-world game, featuring surely the best returning you’ll see anywhere. Murray stood up to a serve of 147 mph and blazed it right back. He returned a Raonic smash, which got his whole entourage on their feet cheering like mad apart from Ivan the Impassive.There were backhand winners of routine brilliance. But still the break didn’t come.
The set went to a tiebreak in which Murray maybe topped even that rearguard action with another gobsmacking block of a Raonic smash then sent scorching long, flat drives into the corners to give him five set points. He won the tiebreak 7-3.
In the third set, possibly encouraged by Murray’s first double-fault in its opening game, Raonic unwrapped a new racket to next deal with the Murray serve. He achieved love-15 – a huge deal for him – but banged too long after that. Then came a better chance: 15-40, the first time Murray had been break points down. He saved one, fist-pumped and screamed, got it back from the crowd. This was to be his only scare.
Raonic was coming into the net more but Murray relished the opportunity for swordplay. There was another astonishing smash return by Murray, and a 135mph missile from Raonic chucked straight back at the server. Suddenly Raonic was serving to save the match. He survived that game, and the next one, to produce another tiebreak. But Murray was imperious, as he’d been all game. Power, precision and a dazzling array of shots as he raced to five championship points, taking the tie-break 7-2 – and then getting his hands on that handsome cup.
He gripped it a bit tighter this time. He thanked his family, his support-team, the fans, and the Royal Box where David Cameron had a front-row seat. “Playing Wimbledon is tough,” he said, “I wouldn’t like to do his job.”
So who can we get now?