One for the Hill People

Friday, July 06, 2012 /by

Picby Pete Bodo

WIMBLEDON, England—It was a scene you'd be more likely to find after the hottest rock-and-roll band on the planet had just finished a killer show, except it was hearts that were ringing, not ears. An hour after Andy Murray had booked his spot in the Wimbledon final opposite Roger Federer—the first time a British man had achieved the final of his native championship in 74 years—hundreds of fans on Henman Hill still stood around under the giant television screen that was no longer the technicolor monolith painting out the realization of their dreams. Did they really just see what they. . . saw?

Some of them were talking. Others were drinking (this was Henman Hill, you know, where such things do happen). Still others were doing nothing, just standing there feeling happy in a goofy kind of way for which there was no explanation. It's been torture with Murray, just as it was with the eponymous Tim Henman, and the person who articulated it best yesterday was Roger Federer. "Let's be happy that he's such a great player that he makes that sort of hype last," Federer mused. "He always remains in the tournament for so long. I think that's what's particular about it."

Andy Murray was finally in the Wimbledon final. Irrevocably, too.

It was a victory for Henman Hill habitues, because that's where the least inhibited and perhaps most passionate (as well as most broke) seekers for the annual miracle gather in a ritual during which gradually rising hopes come to a crescendo and very soon thereafter end in. . .despair. As Federer pointed out, it wouldn't be half so bad if Murray were less predictably competitive.

But there was no despair this time. Andy Murray is in a Wimbledon final. Finally. And it wasn't easy, not least because nothing with Murray is. The final point of the match was a wonderful illustration of what you might call the Murray gestalt. 

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga cracked a whopper of a serve to Murray's forehand. The wiry Scot returned the favor with a stupendous forehand return, cross-court. The Centre Court crowd as well as the Henman Hill hearties rose as one, arms flung high, their squeals and roars blending into the same sound as a load of coal avalanching down a metal chute. 

Wait.

The umpire did not say, "Game, set and match." Murray was confused. At first, he thought maybe Tsonga challenged a call, but it was the linesman's doing. The ball had been called out. The umpire told Murray and noted that he had chosen not to overrule. Gulp.

Now it was up to Murray to challenge, which he did. By then, Tsonga was up at the net, grinning at Murray. The Frenchman later reprised the dialogue.

"How was it?" Murray asked.

"I think it's wide. But maybe on the line or not, I don't know."

Very helpful, Mr. Tsonga.

Thankfully for Murray, though, the electronic line-calling system proved the ball good. The price paid to develop and implement this system, originally called Hawkeye, can now officially be said to have been a worthwhile investment, or so anyone in the UK would posit. Given Murray's history, who knows what might have happened were the original call left to stand?

After all, this was another of those matches in which Murray's moth-to-flame relationship with success was on display. He played a terrific two sets, but almost lost the plot and nearly found himself in the same situation Roger Federer did a year ago in the quarterfinals against the same opponent. Tsonga came back on that occasion from two sets down to win. The less confident British pundits and fans were getting an awful feeling in the pit of their stomachs.

"In the beginning, he didn't give me one chance, not one chance to go to the net," Tsonga said after Murray won it, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. "He didn't miss one serve. He was really, really good."

In reality, though, Murray's subsequent decline could hardly be called precipitous; it's hard to fault him for the way Tsonga got back into the match in the third set. Murray facilitated the process by allowing Tsonga to break him in the second game, but a letdown was inevitable, and always better at the start of a set than the end. Later, Murray's most egregious shortcoming was failing to hold onto a 3-1 lead in the fourth set. That seemed especially ominous when Murray failed to convert either of two break points with Tsonga serving, 3-4.

But Tsonga played two magnificent points, and in the long run the extra few games aren't likely to make much difference on Sunday. But Tsonga did remark: "It's going to be tough for Andy because he need to recover from the last match and this match against me. He looked pretty tired at the end, so I don't know how he will be physically."

Said Murray, "Well, I played one bad game, and then after that I thought I played well (again)," referring to the third set. "I had a lot of games where I was giving myself chances. All of his service games I was getting 30?All, Love?30, had some breakpoints here and there. He played some great points. Obviously let him back into it a little bit. He started playing better and he started serving very well on the big points."

But on this day, Murray kept the drama manageable, and he's entitled to go into the final feeling no pressure, and hoping that Federer will be spent emotionally, perhaps come up a little flat. Murray has made a point of explaining that he doesn't really think all that much about the so-called "pressure" in his situation—the first British man to contest a Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938.

"I've been trying to explain you don't really think about it that much," he said. "But I think like subconsciously. . . at the end of the match it was obviously very emotional. Haven't really been like that before in a semifinal match, so obviously it meant something to me and it was very, very important. And, yeah, there is obviously a lot of pressure and stress around this time of year. (But) I don't, like, feel it like when I'm on the practice court on when I'm just kind of walking around. I try not to think about that stuff, but in the back of my mind it's obviously there."

It's been there in the minds of the people of the Hill, too. And it will be there again on Sunday.

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