Had Andy Murray read the script, he was supposed to have carried on unravelling after losing that third set.
He then allowed himself to be broken straight back after securing what many had viewed as the breakthrough in the fourth game of the fourth set. The match continued to see-saw back and forth. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, someone whose popularity tested a few Centre Court loyalties even in this historic hour, scratched his way back into contention.
It was as if Murray, out of sheer devilment, had decided to keep the nation waiting just a few more games; perhaps another set. It’s been 74 years – what’s a few more agonising moments?
Murray teased us, and then, when the moment had, we thought, finally arrived, there was one final delay. This time it was an erroneous call that kept us hanging on the line. Tsonga came to the net and flashed that winning smile of his. An earlier incident where Murray had bludgeoned the ball into his nether regions had clearly been forgotten.
After such intense industry from both protagonists, now they had to stand and watch as the crucial point was replayed on a screen in the corner, after Murray’s forehand cross-court return had been called out, wrongly as it rather joyously turned out.
Imagine, as he walked off court in 1938 as a beaten finalist, if someone had told Bunny Austin that this is how the next British men’s finalist would learn his fate. It hasn’t just been a long time for British tennis, it’s been a long and productive time in technical innovation. Now, as well as a God particle, we have the missing link to Austin, and, perhaps, Fred Perry.
Eleven semi-finals have come and gone, the Brit coming off worse each time, from Mike Sangster to Murray last year. The law of averages seemed to favour the Scot yesterday. When he raced into a two-set lead, the fools that we all are sat back and let out a contented sigh: it can’t go wrong now.
Murray had shown his teeth, securing a break of serve in only the second game of the match. Nothing, it seemed, was going to deflect him from his purpose. Not Kylie Minogue, watching just a few yards away from the Royal Box. And not even the dim-wit in the crowd who, in the hush as the Scot waited to serve, shouted out: “C’mon Murray! C’mon the English!”
Murray promptly slammed down an ace, then raised a clenched fist. He repeated the trick with his next serve. At the start of the next set, he mouthed a silent “c’mon” to himself as he prepared to face Tsonga’s serve.
His double-handed backhand then clicked into gear, helping him take the second set in equally impressive style. The spectators had seemed curiously reluctant to get too involved, and had even been slow to take their seats. Strangely, a contest on which so much rested had started in a half-empty arena.
It was, according to Sue Barker as she previewed the action ahead on television, going to be our “nervous watch”. What did she know? Out on court Murray was starting to enjoy himself.
But then, as suddenly as a cloud passes in front of the sun, momentum was lost, and we were forced to contemplate the horror of another final slipping through British fingers. It was a false alarm.
When all is said and done, Murray did what he expected from himself from the moment Rafa Nadal was eliminated in enthralling fashion last week, but the manner of the Scot’s progression deserves to be celebrated. So, too, his conduct. Tears briefly filled his eyes yesterday as he gazed skywards, but he kept the celebrations to a minimum. There was just the now-routine finger-pointing gesture to the heavens before he left the court, leaving an historic tread behind him.
British tennis fans have sat and hurrumphed about the state of tennis in the country for a long while. Many almost seemed to revel in their misery. But a turn of phrase has now been deleted from the lexicon. No more can we say there is as much chance of such-and-such happening as there is of a British man getting to the final at Wimbledon. Also, whither Scottish sporting failure? It could still arrive in the final against Roger Federer tomorrow, but the achievement of actually getting there cannot be down-played. After all, 128 competitors clocked on for duty at the start of last week. Only two remain, and one of them is Scottish. The other, by the way, used to own a Scotland football strip, one gifted to him when he was a child.
Bizarre, yes, but not as surreal as Scotland, a country already spinning on its axis after the liquidation of Rangers, now being able to boast a Wimbledon finalist.