Mark McSherry: We were there on the night Andy Murray got his wings

Andy Murray at the US Open. Picture: Getty
Andy Murray at the US Open. Picture: Getty
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FOUR years ago, four New York-based Scots from Stoneyburn, Linlithgow, Musselburgh and Alness suffered in the nose-bleed seats as 21-year-old Andy Murray was outclassed in the final of the US Open by Roger Federer.

After that defeat, Murray was honest enough to say something like: “If I am going to win one of these I will need to get an awful lot better.”

Well, he did, and on Monday night, the same four exiled Scots returned to Flushing Meadows to savour a famous victory by a massively improved tennis player, who now has mental strength to match the best of them.

Spectators are not allowed to take flags to the US Open – I came close to being arrested four years ago for arguing the case for my Saltire just a bit
too strongly with a Flushing Meadows official – so the only way to support your man is to shout as loudly as poss­ible. So we chanted ourselves hoarse for Murray for almost five hours.

The rose from Linlithgow had been stung by a bee outside the stadium before the match, and we were so engrossed we didn’t notice her arm had swollen up like a red balloon with infection. She didn’t care.

As we roared when Murray clinched the first set, a nice woman from Pennsylvania laughed: “I’d hate to see you at match point.”

We convinced ourselves that the man from Dunblane could hear us - four people in a crowd of 23,000 - and it would be bad luck to stop shouting.

So even in the dark, scary, Serbian tunnel that was sets three and four, we kept up the noise.

Tennis crowds can be a bit reserved and haughty, so we had to noise them up a bit. For crying out loud, it’s not croquet.

We were perched in Row L, seats 4 to 7, high but directly above Murray’s box and we could see his coach, Ivan Lendl, hunched in his maroon shirt and Andy’s mother and girlfriend willing on their man. The Hearts fan from Alness decided the maroon shirt was a good omen. He was right.

At roughly £100 each, these were cheap seats for such an historic occasion. Amazing (face) value for money. The Alness entrepreneur had done his job as usual in the dark arts of securing the briefs.

The first two sets were like a warm and friendly dreamland, with two great players exchanging the most exquisite of shots and with Murray usually prevailing.

Murray gets back shots on his backhand from deep in the corner of the court that seem to defy physics. Time and time again this feat kept him in the point. It gave you a warm, secure feeling.

It reminded me of the line from Muhammad Ali to George Foreman during the Rumble in the Jungle: “George, is that all you’ve got?”

Djokovic was on the ropes, and he knew it.

It felt like watching the warm and happy bits of the Frank Capra movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” in your grandfather’s house as he contently smoked his pipe and the coal fire roared up the chimney.

I thought of Van Morrison’s great line: Wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?

On TV, tennis just looks like a power game. In the stadium, you can see, feel and hear that it is all about the incredible control these players are somehow able to achieve over a fluffy yellow ball traveling at one hundred miles per hour. You can hear the enchanting, puffy sound of tight racket gut on pressurised gas, rubber and felt.

These are master craftsmen. They caress the ball. They kiss it. They tease it. They coax it. They cajole it. Then they reward it like you would an obedient labrador. It is something to behold.

In those first two sets, Murray was so confident, moving like a cat and hitting the sweet spot of the racket.

He was in so much control, almost nonchalant, that he reminded me of Kenny Dalglish in his pomp, trapping with instant touch and curling a left-foot screamer into the net against Spain to help send Scotland to the World Cup Finals.

It gave you a very warm and fuzzy sensation. It was a place you wanted to stay. But you knew that at some point The Hulk would wake up and rip off his shirt. “You just know that Murray is going to make us suffer,” I said to my friend from the Honest Toon, and she glared that I should just shut up. She was right.

In the third and fourth sets the sun dipped behind the stadium and we suddenly felt the cold bite of the wind, or was that just that we felt the bite of Djokovic as he mounted his comeback, banging his hard Serbian chest with his fist and howling at the moon.

We did not lose hope during Djokovic’s comeback, but our guts churned and we just knew we had to go through this. It’s Andy Murray, after all – but it’s the new Andy Murray and that’s why we kept faith.

Sets three and four felt like the low point in It’s A Wonderful Life where the Jimmy Stewart character contemplates ending it all and the angel called Clarence appears to save his life.

The big scoreboard screen kept flashing the smiling, benign picture of Sean Connery all night as he willed Murray to win from the stands. He believed too.

It was hard, visually, to spot the many fellow Scots in the crowd due to the flag ban in this land of free speech. Some wore Scotland football or rugby shirts and some looked good in their kilts.

But most were only identifiable by their primal screams into the night sky.

“Come on Andy!” … “Let’s Go Murray!” … or simply “Murray, Murray, Murray” as they tried to drown out the rival chants of “Novak, Novak, Novak.”

They believed. We all believed. And our faith was not misplaced.

Was Connery really Clarence? Had we been in Pottersville for two hours but were now headed back to Bedford Falls?

Believe me, you start entertaining such notions when you badly want to believe.

The old Murray might have folded at the end of the fourth set, but the new Murray simply took a “comfort break” before the fifth set and came out, somehow cool and calm amid the exhaustion and nerves, and quickly broke Djokovic’s service.

The spring in Murray’s step was back. His head was cocked. He believed.

And once again he started using that wonderful, swashbuckling shot where he goes up on one leg to return the ball. It’s a shot where he seems to defy
gravity, hanging in the air like Michael Jordan.

This was the night when Andy Murray got his wings.

• Mark McSherry is a former business editor of The Scotsman and now a journalism professor in New York.