With the 2013 tennis season in the past, it's time to dole out our annual awards. Look for the winners—for better or worse—throughout this week on TENNIS.com. (To see what's been unveiled thus far, click here.)
“I know how much everyone wanted to a see a British winner at Wimbledon. I hope you guys enjoyed it. I tried my best.”
With those modest, matter-of-fact words, Andy Murray became the first man from the United Kingdom to hoist the winner’s trophy at the All England Club since Fred Perry did it 77 years ago. His words were too modest, of course; Murray’s speech may qualify as the understatement of the tennis season. The home-country fans had not only enjoyed his victory, they had made staid Centre Court feel like a World Cup soccer stadium for two weeks. And anyone who had followed Murray’s career from his days as a volatile teen prodigy knew well that he had tried his best. He had, in fact, dedicated his life to the task.
Yet for years it had appeared that his dream would remain unfulfilled. Murray, in many people’s eyes, was the right man at the wrong time, a great talent playing in an era of all-time great talents. He had lost three times at Wimbledon to one of those all-timers, Rafael Nadal, and once to another of them, Roger Federer, in the 2012 final. This summer, groans went up across the U.K. when the draw was made and both Rafa and Roger landed in Murray’s half. If he was going to win it, he would have to do it the hard way.
This year, somehow, the curse of Fred Perry turned into a blessing: Nadal lost in the first round and Federer followed him out the door two days later. Murray suddenly had an open road to the final. But as every long-suffering British tennis fan knew, this was Wimbledon, where Tim Henman spent a decade turning afternoon tea into a death-defying adventure. Murray continued the tradition when he came back from two sets down to beat Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals and nearly had to do the same to beat Jerzy Janowicz in the semis.
In the final, Murray played this era’s other great talent, Novak Djokovic. For most of the afternoon, it was smooth sailing. Murray delighted a Royal Box filled with celebrities, as well as a fist-pumping Prime Minister, by winning the first two sets and going up a break in the third. The din reached its height as he served for the match and reached 40-0, triple championship point. But curses that old aren’t so easily broken. Djokovic saved all three match points and earned three break points of his own. Dream had turned to nightmare; the crowd had gone silent with fear.
This time it would be different. This time the fans were right to believe. Murray fought off each Djokovic charge and staggered on long enough to see a final backhand from his opponent clip the tape. “My head was kind of everywhere,” Murray said of that last game. No kidding: In his moment of triumph, the first group of people he turned to and celebrated with were...the press.
Andy Murray, conscientious, methodical, driven, a player who had taken his share of tough losses but never stopped striving to improve, turned out to be the right man at the right time.