It was also a fair bet that their heads and hearts would be split between the two men who would play their part in one of the most highly-anticipated men’s finals of recent times.
On one side, Andy Murray carried the hopes of a nation starved of a champion here since the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977—when Virginia Wade won the women’s title—and starved of a men’s champion since Fred Perry won in 1936. Indeed the cradle of tennis had not celebrated a men’s singles champion in any Grand Slam since 1936.
Already Murray had broken the ‘final’ jinx by reaching the Championship match, the first man since 1938 to do so. He had done it, by happy coincidence, in another “Royal” year, the Diamond Jubilee.
And all the while, Olympic preparations reached their climax: In three weeks’ time, the top players in the world would reconvene on the hallowed Wimbledon turf for a near-unique event.
So special was this moment, though, so pregnant with expectation, that both Westminster and Royalty were here: The Prime Minister and the London Mayor, the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Kent. Next to David Cameron sat the First Minister of Scotland and the Scottish flag fluttered alongside the flag of the UK over Downing Street.
Tennis royalty was also here in the shape of Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Frank Sedgman—and the man on the other side of the net from Murray himself.
For there was Roger Federer, a man Murray himself called “one of the greatest ever.”
The superlative Swiss already had records—at 16, the most Grand Slam titles, at eight the most Wimbledon finals, at 24 the most Grand Slam finals—and by reaching the final this week, he ensured he had reached at least one Major final every year for the last 10 years.
Already with the longest streak of consecutive weeks at No1, he needed only to win a record-equalling seventh title here to take the outright record from Pete Sampras.
What Murray had in his favour, apart from home support on home turf, was that he was one of a small band of men to have a head-to-head advantage over Federer. What wasn’t in his favour was their Grand Slam record—both matches, both finals, had both been straight sets defeats.
There was certainly every sign that a Scottish independent wanted to challenge royalty in the opening game: a very swift attacking break of serve to Murray followed by a hold to lead 2-0. It looked as though Federer was initially thrown by the pace and aggression of Murray but he came back quickly to hold and then break.
Murray did not let up, playing with depth and variety, running everything down. Federer found himself fending off fierce forehands with a couple of big volleys but still faced deuce again. He held, but only the best serve and smashing from Federer could hold off the attacking Scot. The tennis was physical and fast with many long rallies. The eighth was typical and key, lasting 11 minutes and through countless deuces.
Murray held, and it proved to be a huge confidence booster. With the match approaching an hour, he renewed the attack on Federer, literally, aiming a ball at the net-rushing Swiss. Federer ducked, the ball landed in and Murray had two break points. A non-plussed Federer fired a forehand into the net to lose his serve while Murray held his own with a 130mph ace. He had the set 6-4 in a dominant performance that produced only five errors.
In the second set, Federer opened with an imposing love service game but, from then on, Federer had to work harder and harder for every serve. He rushed the net whenever possible but more often than not had to put away two or three smashes before Murray stopped running.
Federer continued to hold, but under constant pressure and facing break points in the 11th. His face was set and he refused to give any ground, and he finally saw his moment.
A delight of a drop shot drew a lob from Murray that flew just long to give Federer a precious break point. He won a long, tactically-brilliant rally with a backhand drop volley that even Murray could not track down and the set was his, 7-5. Only two points out of 78 separated them, but this time, unlike the first set, Federer had twice as many winners as errors and had attacked the net no fewer than 42 times.
These were danger times for Murray: Federer had a steely look and served seven straight points on his serve at the start of the third, but help was on its way. The charcoal clouds that had loomed over Centre Court broke into a downpour and play was suspended, but it did not bother Federer. He returned to make quick work of his serve with a big forehand.
Having withstood the Murray storm, Federer now looked the more relaxed player, moving freely to the net and staying with Murray from the baseline as well. Serving in the fifth, Murray took a heavy fall when rushing to retrieve a drop shot to bring up deuce. Then he lunged vainly to reach a forehand down the line but failed. It brought up the first of several break points in a decisive game that lasted more than 20 minutes.
Murray did little wrong, but Federer was now playing at his peak. He put a lob onto the baseline, leaving Murray sprawled on the ground again, and made a leaping forehand winner to take a 4-2 lead and, ultimately, the set, 6-3.
With the clock at three hours, it did not take Federer long to impose himself on the fourth set, creating topspun and sliced backhand winners at will. He broke in the fifth and, despite the surging chants of “Andy, Andy”, he served out the match, 6-4. In the final set alone, he hit 17 winners and won 12 of 13 net points.
It was classic, classy, champion-style stuff, but the man who will be 31 next month fell to ground as though this was his first title on grass rather than his seventh.
And as expected, there were tears elsewhere, too. Murray tried in vain to thank the crowd and his family, tried to congratulate Federer, gave up. His conqueror gave him an understanding hug: He pointed out afterwards that he had been there himself.
But no-one else has been where Federer is now: Top of the pile again, from tomorrow, for his 286th week though, as his low-key session with the press afterwards confirmed, he’s not thinking about that yet:
“Honestly, this one hasn’t quite sunk in yet. I guess I was trying to be so focused in the moment itself that when it all happened I was just so happy that it was all over and that the pressure was gone. There was so much on the line, so I didn’t try to think of the world No1 ranking or the seventh or the 17th. I think it’s going to take much longer to understand what I was able to achieve today.”
But he must surely now have in his sights on a first singles gold medal, back here, in a month’s time.
And Murray, though he admitted he won’t be back on a tennis court next week, will also return to renew his challenge. And he will get still more support, and deservedly so, from a home crowd who, though disappointed, can be hugely proud of their man.
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge