Last night Andy Murray stepped out into the Arthur Ashe stadium as “the greatest player never to win a Grand Slam”. Five sets, 50 games, four hours and 54 minutes later and he was Andy Murray – US Open champion.
This moment has been a long time coming, both for Murray and his brigade of dedicated fans, and when Djokovic’s final return fell long, the first glimpse of the Scotsman’s face betrayed a wave of relief. After all, four failed attempts to land a Slam trophy is more than just a knock to your confidence.
As I settled down in front of the television at 9:00pm last night, I knew we weren’t in for an easy ride. In Djokovic you have a fine competitor – a man who was knocking on the door of greatness until last year when he overhauled his game to steal the limelight from the Federer/Nadal rivalry. A remarkable hard court record (two years undefeated in the US and Australian Opens and 27 consecutive wins) is testament to the run of form the Serb has become accustomed to.
But Murray came out all guns blazing. It was a nervy start from both players, with four breaks of service in the first eight games, but it was the Scot who capitalised, demonstrating nerves of steel to take the first set tie break 12-10.
When he squandered a 4-0 lead in the second, British fans could be forgiven for fearing a repeat of the teary choking act played out in this year’s Wimbledon final. But, as we now know, it is often in his toughest moments that the new world number three produces his finest tennis – his dogged defence paid dividends and he converted the second of two break points at 6-5 to establish a two-set lead.
But when does a Brit ever make it easy? Ignoring the exasperated pleas of his loyal (but yawning) supporters watching at home, Murray let Djokovic fight his way back into the match and when he drew level at two sets apiece, I think I can speak for the majority of British tennis fans when I say I braced myself for the worst.
But how wrong we were. Murray took himself off to the toilet with his tail between his legs and emerged back on court a fighter. He began to play glorious tennis, racing to a crucial 3-0 lead. Once again, Djokovic fought back but it was Murray who prevailed, eventually earning himself three Championship points on serve at 5-2. This was unprecedented territory for British tennis fans – could he really do it?
Novak never gave up, pummelling a forehand past Murray to make it 40-15, but British fans were not to be denied as Murray’s booming serve forced one final error from the Serb. The 76-year wait was over – Britain finally had a Grand Slam champion.
Last night’s match will go down as one of the greatest finals of all time. In the era of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal we have grown accustomed to an exceptional level of tennis, but this time it was Djokovic and Murray’s turn to showcase their considerable talent.
Neither player was flawless – the Serb committed 65 unforced errors compared to Murray’s 56, far outweighing the total winners. But both hit levels of sheer brilliance in unison and it was those points that ensured this match will be known as a classic. Scintillating shots deemed unreturnable somehow found their way back into play as each player dug deep into their reserves – an incredible 54-shot rally in the first set paving way for the gritty battle we witnessed. Together they created some magical tennis in a late-night thriller that captivated the attention of the crowds, the Twittersphere and the British public, buoyed by a summer of immense sporting achievement.
I like to think my mad victory jig at two in the morning was replicated in front of British televisions up and down the country and I hope, more than anything, that this is just the beginning for Murray. His stony-faced coach Ivan Lendl may have failed to manage more than a faint smirk during the trophy presentation, but the eight-time Grand Slam winner’s guidance has heralded a new age for the Scotsman.
But enough of his glittering future – now is a time of celebration and, in Murray’s words, “relief – probably the best word I would use to describe how I’m feeling just now.” He has finally etched his name onto a Grand Slam trophy and, in the words of his defeated friend and rival, Novak Djokovic, “I had a great opponent today. He deserved to win this Grand Slam more than anybody. I would like to congratulate him.” So would we – well done, Andy.