Yesterday was such a good day for Brits at Wimbledon that even Greg Rusedski managed to get his hands on a trophy!
Greg was one of the many male Brits who tried and failed to win a singles title at Wimbledon in the years between Fred Perry and Andy Murray. Yet, yesterday, Greg was the least important of 5 British winners. Gordon Reid became the first winner of the men’s Wheelchair Singles (which is his second GS of the year), adding to his doubles with Alfie Hewett in the process, Jordanne Whiley added Wimbledon Wheelchair doubles to her growing Slam collection (1 singles, 8 doubles and she’s only 24!) while Heather Watson sealed an unexpected but delightful mixed doubles title with Finn Henri Kontinen.
They are all great achievements in their own right, and all deserve equal praise. For Reid, Hewett and Whiley it’s a case of coming into form at the right time – the Paralympics are just around the corner and all appear to be in the form of their life. For Watson, it’s finally a trophy after years and years of disappointing early losses in singles. She showed enough in that final to suggest she could become a formidable doubles player, and potentially leave her singles career behind. Rather than a step backwards, it would be a move to aim for more slams and more glory. And any more tournaments with Kontinen would be welcome, the two of them clearly enjoy playing together.
And yes, there is one more I haven’t mentioned.
When Andy Murray won Wimbledon in 2013, it felt like an ending. He had won a slam almost a year earlier in New York (after all, with the pressure and expectation his first slam was never going to be in London), and Wimbledon sealed his place amongst the elite of British sporting history. It was the culmination of all his hard work, long hours and sheer dedication to reject a life in the tabloids for a life of training.
It was no surprise he dipped. A recurring injury meant he underwent surgery, and 2014 was an awful year by his standards. He almost dropped out of the world’s top 10 and didn’t beat a member of the aforementioned group until the US Open. His ambition for winning slams, at least to us not in his head, seemed to have vanished.
I can’t remember when I started getting hopeful about his slam prospects again. Certainly, the re-hiring of Ivan Lendl a few weeks ago was a massive, positive surprise, and has clearly worked – with Murray not losing a single match since the Czech returned to his box.
But to pin this all on Lendl would do a massive disservice to the woman who got Andy back to his best. Amelie Mauresmo.
History might not look too kindly on what Amelie did for Andy, but it should. Amelie turned him into a competitor on all surfaces, returned his desire to win slams and restored his ability to compete with Novak Djokovic. Yes, Andy didn’t win a slam under her guidance. But that doesn’t matter. Without her, Andy wouldn’t have reached the 2016 Wimbledon Final.
And even then, with her Andy would have won yesterday regardless. Milos Raonic played the match of his life, indeed I believe he was better yesterday than he was against Roger Federer, yet couldn’t break the Murray serve – he only fashioned two break points! Andy was serving at his very best, and returning with enough venom to pose problems for Raonic. It was the best returning match I’ve seen for a long time, yet there was only one break of serve in three sets.
The match reports have all under-played Milos, and claim that Andy had some sort of grip on the match from the very beginning. That he was always going to win. I personally think that is absurd. What if Milos had won the first tie-break? What if he had won the second? Did Milos actually do anything wrong in the tie-breaks? I certainly can’t remember many unforced errors in either, indeed the only memories I have are of Murray’s brilliance.
It may not have been a good spectacle, but it was certainly a good final. Two players, quite evenly matched, pummelling each other and trading blows, not just off a racket, but mentally too. Raonic is currently third in the Race to London (essentially a measure of how good a year a player has had – by the end of the year the Race will equal the rankings), and there was nothing on display yesterday to suggest that is underserved. He’s 4000 points behind Andy, however, and that is only down to Murray’s desire to win the big points.
Yesterday, everything from his confident walk onto the court to his graceful speech at the end, convinced me that Milos Raonic will win a slam in the next few years. At 25, and with the experience of big matches, he’s the one player in a perfect position to win slams when Murray and Djokovic unwind. He might even win one before then. He has the game to, and a clear desire to improve.
If 2013 felt like an ending, 2016 feels more positive. Murray should win another Grand Slam, and being only 800 points behind Djokovic in the Race, the World Number 1 is a genuine aim now. He believes his best tennis is still to come and the signs coming out of his camp are much more positive now than they were in 2013. Yes, he celebrated and cried yesterday, but there wasn’t the over-the-top jumping into his box, or the hugging of a fan that accompanied his two previous final victories on Centre Court. Yesterday saw an Andy Murray ready to win more slams to seal his place in tennis history.
But whatever happens from now on, we will always have this.
There was a time when a Brit winning the Gentlemen’s invitational doubles at Wimbledon would have been back page news. This was a time when any Brit left in after Day 2 was a miracle-worker, a time when Wimbledon was filled more by hope than expectation. Thankfully, for all concerned, this golden era of Brits playing professional tennis continues to place those times firmly behind us.