At the end of every victory in his run to the Wimbledon final, Andy Murray looks upwards and points his fingers to the sky – a ritual clearly symbolic…and clearly working.
It is one of many signs of a new era for the British player, a transformation heralded by his coach, Ivan Lendl. Because the Murray who has emerged to battle through this year’s tournament is a composed, tougher version of the player we’ve grown accustomed to: a tricky draw, a string of rain delays and the dizzying expectations of a nation have failed to break his resolve.
Such is his composure that you’d be forgiven for thinking that it doesn’t matter to him as much as it does to us. But the tears brimming in his eyes following his Friday night victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga told a different story. The Andy Murray who drunk in the applause of the Centre Court crowd had emotion written all over his face – relief that he’s done what no British man has achieved in the last 74 years and, in his words, “excitement” for today’s final.
25-year-old Murray’s name will already go down in history as the greatest male British player of the Open Era – his achievements over the last two weeks have made sure of that. But can he take that final step? Will his fingers be pointing to the sky this afternoon?
The man he faces is considered by many to be the greatest player ever to pick up a tennis racket. Roger Federer – six-time champion, eight-time finalist, 16-time Grand Slam winner – was in blistering form during his semi-final encounter with Novak Djokovic. The 30-year-old silenced his critics in four sets, playing some phenomenal tennis and proving that his game can still topple long-standing records.
If he triumphs today he will equal Pete Sampras’ seven Wimbledon titles and reclaim the number one spot that has eluded him since May 2010. Re-wind to the unassailable Federer of old and you witnessed a player on top of his game but coasting rather than fighting for success. The Roger of this year’s tournament is a changed man – he’s had to battle for his spot in the final and his hunger for another shot at Wimbledon glory is plain to see.
On paper the third seed is a formidable opponent, but Murray is one of very few players to lead a head-to-head against him. He’s edged their fifteen meetings 8-7, although both times they’ve met in a Grand Slam final (the US Open in 2008 and the 2010 Australian Open) Federer has claimed victory in straight sets.
Andy has served fantastically over the last two weeks – he is the tournament leader for points won on second serve. His sliced backhand is often unreturnable and his down-the-line forehand will be a dealbreaker if it succeeds in dictating Federer’s shot selection.
There is a reason for the fanfare that surrounds the Swiss maestro. The astronomical prize money, sponsorship deals and exclusive RF logo are an apt representation of a man who has spent 285 weeks of his life as world number one. Murray – currently ranked number four – will step out on Centre Court the decided underdog.
But that hasn’t stopped Britain, a nation of sporting optimists, buzzing with excitement. The UK is expected to come to a standstill this afternoon as an estimated 20 million viewers tune in to watch the Scot take his shot at the ultimate prize, with Centre Court tickets changing hands for a rumoured £4,000. Prime Minister David Cameron will show his support with a Scottish Saltire flag flying outside 10 Downing Street alongside the Union Jack, while messages of Twitter support have flooded in from the likes of Stephen Fry, Piers Morgan and boxing champion Amir Khan. Huge queues are already forming at the gates of the All England Club with fans desperate to join the thousands set to brave the drizzly Murray Mount (the soon-to-be-renamed Henman Hill) An underdog has never been under so much pressure…
But the real question on everybody’s lips is, “Can he do it?” Will he become the first British man to take the Wimbledon crown since Fred Perry in 1936? The last British winner – Virginia Wade – triumphed in the Silver Jubilee year and men’s doubles wildcard Jamie Marray has already won the home nation a trophy. Could it be written in the stars?
Well, it’s a tall order and if majestic Federer plays his very best then the answer is probably no. But against Murray the Swiss has exposed a chink in his armour on more than one occasion and the near-unanimous support of Centre Court has never been so ripe for an upset. This is undoubtedly the biggest occasion of Murray’s tennis career and he’s up against arguably the greatest player the game has ever seen. But if he focuses on the match itself rather than the immense pressure and possible outcome, there’s a chance he could clear this final hurdle.