This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
Why, after 77 years, would it be easy?
Future generations of British sports fans who look back at clips of the 2013 men’s final at Wimbledon will see a cloudless 80 degree day, a Royal Box with a beaming prime minister in the front row, a straight-set scoreline, and that rarest of rarities: a homegrown champion. But they’ll miss one crucial element of this seemingly idyllic scene on Centre Court: the unbearable tension.
That’s what filled the arena, as well as its 15,000 occupants, as Murray attempted, and attempted, and attempted to finish off Novak Djokovic and become the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936. A few minutes earlier, as Murray had walked out to serve for the championship at 5-4 in the third set, the crowd had stood and chanted his name as lustily as anything has ever been chanted in those polite environs. When he won the first three points over a demoralized Djokovic, the atmosphere became outright giddy. Shouts and laughter echoed through the stadium as Murray tossed the ball to serve at 40-0—the moment of triumph had surely come at last.
But anticipation quickly turned to dread when Djokovic, as only he could, refused to surrender the final point and let the celebrations begin. By the time 40-0 had melted to deuce, and then break point for Djokovic, a fearful silence reigned. The only thing you could hear at Murray’s end of the court was the sound of him huffing and puffing as he took the towel from the ball boy.
“It’s the hardest few points I’ve had to play in my life,” a relieved Murray would say later. “My head was kind of everywhere.”
Would the Curse of Fred Perry, the last British man to win Wimbledon, survive even this? If you had followed Murray’s career for any length of time, you may have suspected that this moment of crisis would arrive, and that in the end he would overcome it.
He was a prodigy and a top junior, but his career had been less about his obvious talent than the dedicated, methodical way he has gone about getting the most out of it. Murray arrived on tour in the shadow of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He lost his first four Grand Slam finals. He lost three straight semifinals and a final at Wimbledon. He heard criticism from all corners, including from Federer, about his passive play and miserable demeanor. He tried different coaches. He took hard defeats. He seemed stuck at the back of the Big 4, an unlucky victim of the greatest era in tennis history.
Yet Murray kept the long run in focus. Even when he was a teenager, his first coach said, he “wasn’t interested in free time, he just wanted to work.” That teetotaling conscientiousness never wavered.
“I think I persevered,” Murray said today, when all of the work had paid off in the biggest prize of all. “That’s really been it, the story of my career.”
In the end, Murray persevered through the final game, through the tension, through his exhaustion, through Djokovic’s last-gasp brilliance, through the Curse of Wimbledon. He fought off three break points with his own shot-making, and watched as Djokovic finally sent a backhand into the net on the fourth championship point.
“The atmosphere in Centre Court,” Murray said after he had finally walked off a winner there, “was different to what I’ve experienced here in the past.”
The difference was optimism. It fueled Murray to run down every drive and drop shot Djokovic threw at him. Murray came back from a 1-4 deficit in the second set and a 2-4 deficit in the third. Late in the third, he seemed to turn into a permanent blur across the grass. Dashing the length of the court, his racquet coiled beneath him, Murray flicked a ball past Djokovic and watched the chalk fly as it touched down on the baseline.
When it was over, Murray rightly began by thanking the crowd.
“I obviously wanted to win this for myself,” Murray said, “but I understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon, so I hope you guys enjoyed it, I tried my best.”
Then Murray spoke about his coach. “This one is especially for Ivan as well,” he said of Ivan Lendl, who grinned as broadly as anyone could remember him grinning (if anyone could remember him grinning at all). “I know he did everything he could to try to win this while he was playing, so I was glad to help him out.”
His country, his coach, his mom, whom he said he heard "squealing" when it was over: Murray wanted to win it for himself, but he also wanted to win it for thousands of others. That included the people of his hometown, Dunblane, which had endured a tragic school shooting in 1996. Before the tournament, Murray said that he hoped his accomplishments might help make the past feel a little farther away for them.
During his press conference afterward, Murray was told by Bud Collins of Perry's longstanding, forever-frustrated desire to see another British men's champion. Inevitably, Murray was also asked, “What would you tell Fred Perry if he was alive now?”
“He’s someone that I’ve spoken to a lot of people about,” Murray said. “I’ve met various people from his family. It’s a weird one. It’s a name that I’ve heard so much over the course of my career. It’s a shame I never got to meet him.”
Instead, Murray had a chance to do something that, in his eyes, must have been even better: He got to win one for him.