Let’s put it this way: We won’t take Fred Perry’s name for a long time now.
Whenever Britain’s top-ranked tennis player Andy Murray entered a Grand Slam, his success-starved nation—the media, fans, experts—and everyone who tracks tennis, would evoke Perry’s 1936 legacy as the last British man to have won a Grand Slam title—he won both at Wimbledon and US Open that year.
But they can stop complaining now.
By beating his friend and second-seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the final of the US Open tennis championships on Monday in New York, Murray won his first Grand Slam title.
At the start of 2012, one of the storylines waiting to unfold was how former world No. 1 Ivan Lendl would change Murray’s game. The Scotsman had hired Lendl as his coach towards the end of 2011. He was, then, yet to win his first Grand Slam title despite appearing—and losing—in all four previous final appearances (the 2008 US Open, the Australian Open in 2010 and 2011, and Wimbledon this year). But ever since his heartbreaking loss in the Wimbledon final in July to Roger Federer—now the top-ranked player in the world—there was no turning back.
On Monday night, after a gruelling five-set match that lasted 4 hours, 54 minutes—and included a 24-minute, first-set tie-breaker—and equalled the longest US Open final in history, there were no tears. Well, at least not much in Murray’s eyes, like at the All England Club, where he could not help but sob during the post-presentation on-court interview.
But perhaps there could have been tears of joy; though Murray, who won 7-6 (12/10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2, generally hides his emotions as well as his coach did when he was a player.
The Olympic push
Something changed soon after Murray lost the Wimbledon final. That change showed best when Murray again faced Federer just a month later on the same courts in the Olympic final.
As opposed to The Championships, where Lendl was in the player’s box monitoring his ward, he was not in London during the Olympics. But Murray kept in touch with him on the phone. Lendl was impressed by the progress Murray had made going into the Olympics and nudged him to think of the Olympics final as a one-off match.
“He was saying I’ll never play in a match under that much pressure again in my life. So that’s good news. I did feel much more relaxed going into today’s match than I did going into the Wimbledon final,” said Murray in an interview soon after winning his gold medal.
Murray’s mother Judy, who is also the captain of Britain’s Federation Cup team and a constant source of encouragement for him in the players’ box of almost every major event, told Reuters soon after the gold medal that the British crowd had “surrounded him with so much love and admiration”. Murray also won the silver medal in the mixed doubles category with Laura Robson (she beat Belgium’s Kim Clijsters in the second round at the US Open in what was the latter’s last match before she retired from professional tennis), losing the final by the narrowest of margins.
The combined will of a nation, it seemed, had started propelling Murray ahead.
Although his forehand and serves showed improvements after Lendl stepped in, the biggest change, tennis observers claim, has been in his mind. To be reduced to tears after a gut-wrenching loss and then come back to beat the same man convincingly, indicates mental strength. That Lendl also had to wait a long time before he won his first Grand Slam title, helped. Lendl, too, lost in his first four Grand Slam finals before beating John McEnroe in the 1984 French Open.
Two insignificant losses—including a withdrawal in one of them—at warm-up events in Canada and Cincinnati, US, in August aside, Murray came in as a determined man to New York. His job became a bit easier as Federer—who he was drawn to meet in the semi-finals—lost in the quarter-finals to sixth seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. Murray beat Berdych in the semi-finals and met Djokovic in the finals.
“Relief is probably the best word I would use to, you know, describe how I’m feeling just now,” said Murray at his post-match conference.
There have been plenty of twists in men’s tennis and the plot thickens as the year moves ahead. With an Olympic gold and US Open title in his pocket, and with Rafael Nadal sidelined for at least another month because of injury, Murray now has a chance to gain the top spot by the time this year ends. All four Grand Slams this year have been won by different players, for the first time since 2003. Between Djokovic, Nadal, now ranked No. 4, and Federer, the trio won 29 of the past 30 Grand Slams (before the 2012 US Open) titles going back to the French Open in 2005. As Murray entered the elite club of Grand Slam winners, one couldn’t help but notice even Ivan Lendl smile for a change.