On the 12th September 1936, Fred Perry won his 8th major. With the weight of expectation and history on his shoulders, Andy Murray ended the 76 year wait for a male singles major champion.
Tennis, at its finest moments, is the cruelest of sports. Going toe-to-toe with an opponent for four, five gruelling, energy sapping hours only to be denied must be hard to endure. The beauty, and horror, of tennis is that a person gets exposed in front of the world. No other sport pushes someone to the limit and expects them to deal with the ecstasy and pain alone. Heartbreak and triumph are usually seen at the very same moment and as one person celebrates, the other wonders what they can do to win. This was never more apparent than on the 8th July 2012 when Roger Federer claimed his seventh Wimbledon title, beating the home favourite, Andy Murray. In truth, this story starts 7 decades before that day.
Fred Perry won the US Open in 1936 for the 3rd and final time. Perry, son of a Labour Co-Op MP, was the final British male winner of a Grand Slam champion in the 20th century. Despite many promising youngsters coming through, none of them were realistically able to challenge for honours. That was until Andy Murray came along. In 2005 he had promise, much like many others, yet as the years went by we knew we had someone special on our hands. In 2008, he reached his first Grand Slam final in America and his inexperience showed as he lost in straight sets. No matter as, despite a lean 2009, he would return to the Grand Slam Final arena once again, this time in Australia, where once again he left empty handed. In 2011 he had his best year yet as he reached the semi finals in all the four majors while defending the losing finalist points in Australia, yet there was still no Grand Slam crown. At Wimbledon 2012, he won his first set in a Slam final yet after 3 hours and 24 minutes; Federer had turned it around and was victorious once more. It seemed that there was nothing Murray could do to win a major; as the three guys in front of him were simply too good.
The first one of those three is unquestionably the most successful man to ever play tennis. Roger Federer has combined grace with ruthlessness to win 17 grand slam titles, including a career slam of all four. The 7 Wimbledon’s that I’ve already mentioned combined with 4 Australian Opens, 5 US Opens and 1 French have seen him become a legend, not just of tennis but of life. While many would call Federer the greatest of all time, a few argue that it is instead Rafael Nadal. Rafa is undoubtedly the King of Clay having won 8 French Open titles, and his record isn’t bad on other courts either having won Wimbledon and the US twice as well as a singular Australian Open title to take his slam total to 13. Whereas Roger has a career slam, Rafa has a golden slam due to his victory during the 2008 Olympic Games. The rivalry between the two of these was compelling while others, Murray included, watched on – wanting to reach their level. Despite Murray breaking their dominance on the rankings first, it was Novak Djokovic who really blew the era apart when, in 2011, he won 3 of the 4 slams. He has won 4 Australian Open titles in total, with one coming as early as 2008 but the rest being in the last 3 years, 1 Wimbledon and 1 US Open. He has never won the French Open but did reach the final in 2011. Federer is graceful, Nadal powerful and Djokovic never stops. The Serbians powers of recovery have been much talked about, with the prime example being the 2012 Australian Open. Having beaten Murray in an epic 5 hour match, Djokovic went 6 hours with Nadal just two days later and still came out on top. To win a slam, Murray would most likely have to beat 2 of these, although it could be done – as Del Potro had proven in 2009.
Flushing Meadows, New York was the scene of the US Open in 2012. Murray took to the field as one of the favourites, in an intriguing year for all four of them had won honours already. The Australian Open had been won by Djokovic, the French by Nadal, Wimbledon by Federer and the Olympics by Murray (see episode 7). Unfortunately, Nadal had withdrawn from the US with an injury, which was sad news for tennis but good news for Murray fans as Nadal was the one man he had trouble beating when both were at their best. Murray suffered a slump in form after the Olympics, only winning 2 matches at the Rogers cup and the Cincinnati masters. He was expected to raise his game for the US Open; he needed to as Djokovic had won in Toronto and lost in the final in Cincinnati, where Federer had won.
Both Federer and Djokovic cruised into the quarter finals, without dropping a set. Federer had the easiest passage with simple victories over Young (3,2,4), Phau (2,3,2) and Verdasco (3,4,4) before Mardy Fish unfortunately withdrew from their fourth round meeting with health issues. Without breaking a sweat, Roger Federer had reached the last 8 and looked good for the title. Djokovic hadn’t broken sweat either, dispatching Lorenzi 1,0,1 in the first round before beating Dutra da Silva 2,1,2. For most people, the third round is where it gets harder however Djokovic eased past Benneteau 3,2,2 before being 2 sets up on Wawrinka when the Swiss retired. In other stories from New York, it had looked good for the Americans in the third round where they had Fish, Sock, Querry, Blake, Isner, Johnson and Roddick present. All except Roddick (and Fish) exited in that round; confirmed when Isner lost to Kohlschreiber despite being 2 sets to 1 up. Roddick himself then lost to Del Potro in the fourth round, which was his final professional match. It wasn’t the fairytale ending that Americans had hoped for, as their last champion, one imagines, for quite some time departed before the last 8. Meanwhile, Cilic had sneaked into the quarter finals, mainly thanks to Tsonga losing in the second round, where he was joined by Ferrer, Tipsarevic and Querry’s conqueror, Berdych.
For Andy Murray, his tournament had started against the Russian, Bogomolov Jr, who he had no trouble in beating 6-2, 6-4, 6-1. Things got even easier for him in the second round where he gave Dodig no chance throughout the whole match, winning 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. The opponent and the class took a step up for Murray in the third round where he faced Lopez of Spain, Feliciano to most but Deliciano to Andy’s mum Judy. The match was a real struggle, featuring three tie-breaks and four sets. Murray managed to find a way to win the first two sets, both on tie-breaks before losing serve in the third to drop the set 6-4. His first set lost in the tournament didn’t seem to linger in his mind as he came back and won the fourth on a tie-break. He had been tested, pushed to close to the limit but had come through and for that, he was in better shape. He showed what good shape he was in with a crushing demolition of the much talked about Milos Roanic in the fourth round. As he won 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, which looked less comfortable than it was, people started to talk about him as a potential champion. Facing Cilic in the quarter final, he had a brilliant chance to get through to the last 4.
Progressing into the semi finals were David Ferrer with a 5-set victory over Janko Tipsarevic and Novak Djokovic, who continued his impressive form with a straight sets win over Juan Martin Del Potro. Djokovic looked unbeatable; Ferrer had looked shaky in his quarter. Given that they were now going to play each other; it seemed like there was only one result possible. Federer, both in good form and rested, took to the court against Tomas Berdych only to find that the rest had hindered more than helped him. He lost both the first and second sets only to recover to take the third before Berdych held his nerve and knocked one of the big 3 out. Surely, with only Cilic and Berdych in his way, this was now Murray’s chance to reach another major final? Cilic wasn’t about to roll over and the Croat raced he way to a 6-3, 5-1 lead. The blustery conditions and a dip in form had affected Murray, who was facing another disappointing early exit from a Grand Slam. It’s possible that a year earlier he would have lost this tie, before he found a coach in Ivan Lendl who pushed Murray further than he ever could. The new Murray refused to be beaten, turned the second set around and won it on a tiebreak before breaking Cilic’s resistance in the third and serving out a bagel in the fourth to progress. Murray had gone from looking lacklustre to looking like a champion in just a few minutes.
Djokovic and Murray were both expected to get through to the final, and they did however neither had easy semi-finals. Going first, on an incredibly windy day, Murray had to deal with both the weather and Berdych’s aggressive start. That combined to the Brit losing the first set however he then adjusted to the conditions and started wearing the Czech down. Taking the next two sets 6-2, 6-1 and being a break up in the fourth meant Murray was in control. Berdych fought back, and was close to taking the match to a fifth but Murray clung on and won it on a tiebreak. Djokovic also lost the first set in such conditions, as Ferrer’s style of play suits playing big hitters in wind. Unfortunately for David, the match was then postponed as a tornado hit New York. When it resumed the next day, Djokovic only dropped 6 games in easing through to the final. Murray-Djokovic, the final many had predicted had become a reality. Djokovic was in scintillating form however Murray had a new mental toughness that had seen him come through real tests in the tournament. Murray was more rested; Djokovic had spent less time on the court. It was all set to be a thrilling final!
It took place on Monday 11th September, 2012 – almost exactly 76 years after Fred Perry’s victory. Murray elected to return and managed to break Djokovic’s serve in the first game. However, this advantage was short lived as Djokovic regained the break straight away. Two games into the final, it was 1-1 yet it already had the makings of an epic. The first three games saw 10 break points fashioned, of which 7 were played yet only 2 converted. Murray held to love in the fourth game before fashioning two further break points in the fifth and taking one, courtesy of a double fault, to lead 3-2. The next two games both went to the servers yet there was still excitement, with one containing a 54 shot rally. Of course, a break was lying around the corner given that both men’s strength is in their returning and it was Djokovic who managed to get it – levelling the match. The two then held serve, with varying degrees of comfort in each game, to force the first set into a tie-break. It is worth mentioning at this point that the first set is usually crucial when these two play as in 14 of their previous 15 matches, the winner of the first set won the match. This tie-break was absolutely crucial then and the quality of it didn’t let anyone down. Five set points came and went for Murray, as the tie-break was once more drawn level at 10-10. The tension watching was unbearable and you could feel it radiating half way across the world. When Djokovic hit a backhand long, Murray had a sixth set point. This was the time; this was the moment surely to break the Serb’s resistance? Indeed it was as Murray found a serve that Djokovic couldn’t return back into play.
The tie-break victory did indeed spur Murray on as he raced into a 4-0 lead in the second set, with Djokovic bereft of both ideas and energy. Of course, the great champion that Djokovic is wouldn’t let Murray get away with an easy set and fought back, breaking for 4-1 and then again at 5-3, while serving consistently enough not to give any breaks away and we were back level at 5-5 in the second set. Once more, this set looked like it would go the distance however one of them was able to break the other and take the set 7-5. Which one? Well, this Andy Murray bloke was a different one to the one we had seen in previous years. No longer haunted by mental demons and defensive play, he was able to snatch the initiative away from Djokovic at the business end of the set, and go two sets to love up. The way he did it was similar to how Federer had stolen the second set in the Wimbledon final away from Murray.
One set was all Murray needed to win a Grand Slam, very little else mattered. The weather was windy yet dry and so the final would definitely be completed that night. As some people in Britain started heading to bed, any of us who could (this was on Sky, luckily Sky Sports 1 and hence I could watch it) chose to stay and see if we could witness history. History was put on hold, however, as Djokovic refused to die and came out fighting, taking the third set 6-2, which was the fastest set of the match. Djokovic’s resurgence continued as he broke in the first game of the fourth set and despite Murray carving break point opportunities, he couldn’t convert. All of a sudden, in almost the blink of an eye, Djokovic had levelled the match at 2-2. The scoreboard read 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6 and most in Britain now feared the worst. Memories started flooding back of US Open 2008, Australian Open 2010 & 2011 and Wimbledon 2012. No man had lost his first 5 Grand Slam finals, so for the wrong reasons Murray stood on the brink of history.
Murray, much to his credit, took a bathroom break and talked to himself in the mirror, saying “You are NOT going to lose this match”. He came back rejuvenated and broke Djokovic in the first game before holding in the next. I was telling myself not to get too excited, as there was still a long way to go. All of a sudden, its 3-0 to Murray and the recovery from Djokovic seems to have left him jaded. Of course, it couldn’t last and Djokovic won the next two games to bring him right back into contention. Murray held serve and then fashioned a break on the Djokovic one, this meant that he was one game away from becoming a Grand Slam champion. Scotland, nay Britain, held its breath. This was a long breath, believe me – I just about lived through it, as Djokovic called for a trainer before conceding the first three points of the game. Murray has three championship points, when one disappears. The second doesn’t though, as Djokovic sends a forehand long. Andy Murray was a Grand Slam Champion, Britain had a winner once more but that didn’t matter immediately – this moment was all about Andy. Murray preferred quiet reflection to making a fool of him, and so sat on the court with his face in his hands rather than falling to the floor or screaming “Come on!” I imagine it was a bit overwhelming, to finally achieve one’s dream in life – Murray dealt with it with such professionalism and class, it was impossible not to love him. An epic final with a British champion? The wish-list of many had been delivered.
It was such a majestic tournament with such a wonderful and emotional ending. I never stopped believing in Andy, throughout all the bad days and the reward was this. As Mark Petchy said “it’s good that the final was like this” – if he had won in straights, while we wouldn’t complain, it wouldn’t have shut the doubters up like this did. He was dead and buried after the fourth yet he found the energy to finally defeat Djokovic, who fought bravely to keep hold of his title. It says a lot that, a year and a disappointing defence on, I still smile from ear to ear when I remember these two weeks. I’m not afraid to admit that I cried when he won, I’m surprised he managed to hold it together.
Gareth’s Awards (more recognition this time!):
The other one: Andy Murray wasn’t the only Brit that conquered Flushing Meadows for Kyle Edmund won the boys’ double with his partner Frederico Ferreira Silva, who is from Portugal. This was a wonderful achievement but deservedly overshadowed by who I’m going to talk about here. Laura Robson reached the fourth round of the Women’s singles. After beating an American qualifier, she met former champion Kim Clijsters in the second round. Two sets later, Robson advanced to meet another grand slam winner and 9th seed Li Na in the third round. Robson won in three gruelling sets before being denied by Sam Stosur. She was 18 at the time and it was an unprecedented success. She should win honours in her career, if she stays fit then there is no reason why she won’t!
First round madness: Unbelievably, there were 9 matches in which a man came from two sets down to win in the first round alone! The grand slam record was equalled after only 3 days of play, and then later beaten when Fish repeated the trick in the second round. The matches: Petzschner beat Mahut, Mathieu beat Andreev, Cilic beat Matosevic, Tipsarevic beat Rufin, Gulbis beat Haas, Muller beat Youzhny, Fognini beat Roger-Vasselin, Garcia-Lopez beat Monaco and Dologpolov beat Levine. It was truly bizarre but utterly wonderful.