We had a male slam champion, now could he achieve the Holy Grail and win Wimbledon? With the surface suiting him and the draw opening up, this was no longer a pipe dream – it was realistic.
After his victory at the US Open, Andy Murray nearly became the first man in the open era to win his first two slams back-to-back when he reached the Australian Open Final and took the first set off Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately the scheduling had conspired against Murray who had played a five-set marathon with Federer a day after Djokovic had thrashed David Ferrer in straight sets. The recovery time became a factor and after Djokovic won the second set on a tie-break, he wore Murray down to win in four. There were so many intriguing stories emerging in men’s tennis during this time – such as the return of Rafa Nadal, winning almost every tournament he entered (including the French Open) after returning from a 7 month injury lay off, the pulling out of the French Open by Murray because of his back and a direct result of a shocking clay-court swing or the form of players such as Ferrer, Tsonga and Wawrinka. Heading into Wimbledon, Cilic reached the final of Queens once more while Youzhny reached the final at Halle. Both of them lost, to Murray and Federer respectively, however this showed that men’s tennis had depth and we fully expected that to be on show at Wimbledon.
Like so many stories involving Andy Murray, the ghost of Fred Perry looms large. Perry, unsurprisingly, was the last British male singles champion at Wimbledon, beating Gottfried Van Cramm, who has a very interesting story about living and surviving in Nazi Germany despite being gay, in 1936. There had been no British winner in the Open Era nor any British finalist either (apart from Murray himself in 2012) however we can’t ignore the Women or the doubles players. In the Open Era, Ann Haydon Jones (1969 – ladies singles and mixed doubles), Virginia Wade (1977 – ladies singles), John Lloyd (1983,4 – mixed doubles), Jeremy Bates, Jo Durie (both 1987 mixed doubles), Jamie Murray (2007 – mixed doubles) and Jonny Marray (2012 – men’s doubles) had all won titles however none had won the big one, both in terms of sets played and media coverage, the men’s singles. If the media will chastise those who failed to mention the ladies champions then I am not going to let them forget the doubles wins either.
Many Brits failed in the pursuit of that elusive crown, with the majority playing well in other slams yet falling apart at Wimbledon. John Lloyd was a wonderful tennis player, reaching a slam final in Australia and winning two Wimbledon titles (look up) however he could never go further than the third round in the singles at London. The next male singles player to reach a grand slam final was Greg Rusedski, the US Open in 1997 – which propelled him to win Sports Personality of the Year. Interestingly enough, when Murray actually won a slam – he only came third in the same competition. The end of the 90’s were truly terrible days for British Sport. Anyway, Greg could only ever reach the quarter final at Wimbledon, also in 1997. The most successful British tennis player at Wimbledon was Tim Henman, whose ups and downs were agonisingly watched on a mound of grass which became Henman Hill. In 2002, Henman reached his fourth and final Wimbledon semi-final. He lost to a Lleyton Hewitt and that was that. For a couple of years, British tennis went through a lull, hoping for the now old Henman and Rusedski to do something remarkable while knowing that in reality, the talent pool had dried up. Murray changed all that, with promising displays in 2005 (third round) and 2006 (fourth round). Between 2009 and 2012, Murray had reached four semi finals in a row, including that elusive final in 2012. Going into 2013, the British public were hopeful that he could break the age-old hoodoo.
On paper, the draw couldn’t have been much harder for Murray. A quarter final meeting with either Cilic or Tsonga, French Open semi finalist, would then be followed by a semi final clash against either Federer or Nadal, the fifth seed. If he won those two then Djokovic would almost certainly lie in wait in the final as his hardest match would potentially be against Del Potro, who isn’t known for his grass court capabilities. The first day started off in normal fashion with Federer, the defending champion, breezing past Hanescu by only dropping 5 games while over on the women’s side, Sharapova and Azarenka also didn’t lose a set. At this point, Rafael Nadal stepped onto the court (number 1) to play Steve Darcis of Belgium. When Darcis won the first set on a tiebreak, everyone said that Rafa would recover and win in four – he had to, right? Well the recovery didn’t happen at any point during the second set, which also went to a tiebreak and once again, the Belgian beat the Spaniard. Two sets down, people were watching with fascination. Nadal had lost early the year previously, losing in 5 to Lukas Rosol in the second round. While people had heard of Darcis and he had beaten Berdych at the Olympics in 2012, a first round and possible straight sets loss would be a bigger shock. Nadal looked hindered by injury as he surrendered a break in the third and went down 6-4. One of the big four was out on the first day. The third member of the group to play, Andy Murray, won his match in straight sets to avoid joining Nadal, Wawrinka (l to Hewitt), Tipsarevic and Fognini on the list of seeds who lost. If day 1 was surprising, then day 2 continued the trend, to a certain extent. The biggest seed to fall was female, Maria Kirilenko losing in straight sets to Brit Laura Robson – who looked in excellent touch and ready to make an impact, she would reach the fourth round. With the exception of Kohlschreiber, Simon and Querry all the seeds progressed serenely on the men’s side, although Ferrer and Gasquet both had to go four sets to achieve victory.
Day 3 was one of those days that people remember forever. Sadly, it was the day that I didn’t watch much of as I was travelling down to London, to actually go to Wimbledon for a day. However, following it on the train was mesmerising as a grand total of 12 singles seeds fell, including Azarenka, Sharapova, Tsonga, Cilic and Wozniacki. Most of those were injured, with Cilic (although we can safely assume now that this was due to a failed drugs test) and Azarenka not even turning up. Of the seeds scheduled on the show courts that day, only Murray, Flipkens and Kvitova (walkover) actually won. Murray beat compatriot James Ward’s conqueror, Lu in straight sets in a rather comfortable fashion, he was beginning to look good. Not to be forgotten, Federer strode out to centre court to round the day off with a straight-forward match against Sergiy Stakhovsky. The Ukrainian was putting up a fight but still lost the first set, on a tiebreak. Usually in these scenarios, the lower ranked player would then collapse and the experience of a 17 time grand slam winner would shine. However, this match was defying all logic as Stakhovsky served and volleyed his way into a second set tiebreak, which he promptly won. Federer surely couldn’t be in trouble as well? Things got worse for Federer as, at 5-5 in the third set, he was broken and Stakhovsky served out the set to lead 2-1. Federer was one set away from defeat in the second round of a major and that defeat was sealed with another tiebreak loss. Federer had joined the list of seeds losing on the third day, to an opponent whose only previous slam achievement had been reaching the final of the 2004 US Open boys singles before losing to Murray. The bottom half had been blown apart, with only Murray’s section having the majority of the seeds it was expected to have in the third round. We knew now that one of Kubot, Paire, Mannarino or Brown would play one of Almagro, Janowicz, Melzer or Stakhovsky in the quarter finals. The world was suitably shocked.
I’m not sure that the British public could take any more excitement from a sporting event and fortunately for our hearts that was where the seismic unexpected events stopped. It even rained on the fourth day, which reassured us that normality was present however I was there and it interrupted a thrilling fifth set between Dimitrov and Zemlja, which Maria Sharapova watched. I don’t know if she watched again the next day, if she did then she would have seen her boyfriend lose. Zemlja then lost to Del Potro in the third round, who was joined in the fourth by Djokovic, Haas, Berdych, Ferrer and Seppi. Dodig took advantage of Kohlschreiber’s fatigue while the only real shock in the top half was the presence of Tomic, who had beaten Gasquet in 4 wonderful sets of tennis. Over in the bottom half, there were only 3 seeds left. Murray had beaten Robredo to set up a tie with Youzhny (the 20th seed) whereas a young, tall Pole called Jerzy Janowicz looked like the man to beat and was taking full advantage of Federer’s absence. Two former top 10 players having resurgences were also there in Melzer and Verdasco, whose opponent was an unknown Frenchmen Kenny De Schepper. There were only 2 French players left and these weren’t Simon, Tsonga, Gasquet, Monfils, Chardy, Paire or even Benneteau for De Schepper had been joined by Adrian Mannarino, who was playing another Pole in the shape of Lukas Kubot. The bottom half was truly fascinating and highlighted the depth in men’s (French?) tennis.
I had been very impressed with the way Kenny De Schepper had dismantled 22nd seed Juan Monaco in the third round however he couldn’t repeat the trick against Verdasco, who looked in fine form. The French resistance was ended (in the men’s draw anyway) when Mannarino surrendered a 2 sets to 1 lead against Kubot. Polish hopes were well and truly alive, however, when Janowicz came through in 5 sets against Melzer, to guarantee that a Polish man would grace the semi finals of a grand slam for the first time in history, following in the footsteps of Aga Radwanska on the women’s side. In a half with a strangely European flavour to it, only one man in the third round wasn’t from Europe, Murray finalised his place in the quarter final with a toughly contested straight sets victory over Youzhny. The top half was much more predictable as the top four seeds made it into the quarter finals. Djokovic eased past Haas in straights, as did Del Potro against Seppi however Ferrer and Berdych both needed four against supposedly weaker opposition.
Djokovic, Del Potro and Murray all were yet to drop a set as they reached the quarter final and 3 of the 4 ties in this round were straight sets victories. The other was a five set thriller, with a player coming back from the brink to keep a dream alive. Let’s start in Poland where Janowicz comfortably got past Kubot in 3, although their extended hug at the end symbolised the friendship, admiration and respect they had for one another. Djokovic blew Berdych away after a tight first set, in possibly the first true sign that he was ready to win Wimbledon again, his opponent in the semi final was Del Potro who won despite a nasty looking tumble in the first game of his match with Ferrer. Picking himself up, his injury meant that he could hit through Ferrer rather than play the Spaniards favoured running game. It looked for all the world like they would be joined by Verdasco when he went two sets to love up on Murray however Verdasco choked and the Brit took full advantage – clawing his way back from the dead to win in 5.
Del Potro was quickly becoming a hero as he managed to take Djokovic to five sets in the semi finals. After losing the first, he won the second, lost the third before winning the fourth. Djokovic had greater fitness levels however and showed what a champion he is by coming through relatively comfortably in the fifth. He was joined by friend and rival Andy Murray, who finally ended Janowicz’s fine run despite losing the first set. Murray’s experience told as he served incredibly well and managed to break his 6ft 8in opponent more than most could. Despite everything that had happened, the top 2 seeds had arrived in the final together with Murray and Djokovic ready to have another career defining match. This was becoming a regular occurrence yet no-one seemed to mind!
I had a tough dilemma to make on the morning of July 7th. Either go to a Lancashire T20 match against Leicestershire and take a radio to follow the Wimbledon final or stay and watch the tennis at home and use twitter to follow the cricket. I was acutely aware of just how much the 2012 final had hurt and, by not watching it, that pain would be reduced. However, I also knew that Murray was ready to win Wimbledon and is a better player on grass than Djokovic ever will be. I chose to watch the tennis.
Much like their US Open final, there was an early trade of breaks. Both players looked good and both were raising their game when they needed to. At 3-3, Djokovic played his first poor service game and, as logic dictates, you can’t afford that in a grand slam final. Murray broke and this time managed to confirm that break with a hold. Djokovic made Murray serve for the set however the Scot was able to do that without dropping a point. Game and first set Murray, Mohamed Lahyani declared. Let’s not get excited yet, the British public told themselves, this is what happened last year.
When Murray netted a forehand, Djokovic went 3-1 up in the second set however Djokovic double faulted a couple of service games later to concede the break. The score was back on serve at 4-3, which became 4-4 as Murray narrowly held serve. Unsurprisingly, the match was a brutal display of long rallies and aggressive shots. This was tennis as it should be, both men pummelling the other with no sign of respect for one another. Murray managed to find another break at 5-5, forcing Djokovic to pull a forehand into the net. He was serving for a two sets to love lead in the final of Wimbledon, and Murray did it – again without dropping a point. Like their US Open final, Murray had raced to a two sets lead.
The third set started in perfect fashion for Britain as Murray broke with a correct challenge, a feat that, for Murray, is about as rare as a British male grand slam winner. Just when most pundits thought Djokovic was dead, he rose once more to level the set at 2-2. This man will just never give up, which makes him annoying and admirable in equal measure. This trend continues when he raced to a 4-2 lead in the set. It looked as if we were going to have to play a fourth until Murray recovered the break straight away and held serve to level at 4-4. Next thing we knew, we stood on the brink of the impossible as Murray broke once more thanks to his trademark passing shots and Djokovic netting. Murray was 4 points away from becoming a Wimbledon champion, effectively achieving immortality in this country. When he brought up three match points, the whole nation held its breath. Surely, surely, surely this was it! Not yet, as Djokovic saved all three and then managed to get a break point himself. Murray had to save two of these before gaining a fourth championship point. Murray served, Djokovic returned and some girl’s screamed thinking the match had been won. It hadn’t, yet Murray wasn’t affected as he returned to Djokovic’s backhand. I don’t believe that I was breathing as Djokovic hit it back, straight into the net. There was a moment of “wait…” until “AFHGSHGSGHSGHSHGSGS” and the deed had been done. Andy Murray was Wimbledon champion.
Not only did this victory break a hoodoo, it helped rid Britain of the ghost of Perry. No longer would people talk about Perry, they would talk about Murray. I thought nothing could beat the feeling I felt when he won the US Open, I was so so wrong about that! To win in straight sets was unbelievable but despite the amount of times he had broken Djokovic, I don’t think Murray would have won had he lost all four of those championship points, something he has admitted since. This was the pinnacle of my sport watching, every match since then has seemed strangely less important. Everything I had said for years had come true in one glorious afternoon at the start of July. Wimbledone.
I’ll end this article, and the series, with a couple of tweets. One from the man himself , the other from me both displaying a truly British reaction to triumph – shock! (Admittedly, his was possibly sarcasm)
Shock, Shock: So the bottom half of the men’s draw saw Kenny De Schepper reach the second week of a slam and Lukas Kubot reach a quarter final, as we know. Nadal and Federer lost in the first and second round, while Azarenka and Sharapova couldn’t go any further either. Serena Williams lost to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round, before her herself lost to Marion Bartoli of France in the final. There was only one non-seeded player in the quarter finals of the women draw yet only 3 top 10 players. Which had the greater shocks? I’d still say that Nadal and Federer losing to Darcis and Stakhovsky was more surprising then grass court specialist and big server Lisicki beating Williams. Possibly the greatest shock was Bartoli retiring so soon after her win.
Best tribute video: I’ve always been a believer that putting sporting montage clips to music can be one of the most powerful tributes in existence. None have been executed as perfectly as Biffy Clyro’s tribute to Andy. Combining the best two things about a wonderful nation, the result (entitled “Victory over the Serve – using Biffy’s “Victory over the Sun”) is a perfect blend of clips and emotion. Despite the use of a couple of 2012 shots, the perfection of this is highlighted when Djokovic nets that backhand and Simon sings “we can change the world”.