In truth, Murray had become a hero a month before that golden day in early August. He had reached his first Wimbledon final, the first British man to do so since 1938, and took the first set from Roger Federer. The rain came, the roof closed and Federer took the next three sets and the title. It reduced Murray, and the majority of those watching, to tears. It also won the hearts of Murray’s home crowd.
So when he returned, within weeks, to beat the same man on the same court and become Olympic champion, joy was unconfined.
But then he did something arguably even more significant. Relaxed and full of confidence, he crossed the Atlantic and won his first Major at the US Open, again becoming the first British man to do so since 1938.
After ventures in the Far East and Paris, he has now returned to play in London for the third time in 2012, this time as a Grand Slam champion. And he is already guaranteed to end the year at No3 for the first time, after finishing No4 for four straight years.
The support at the biggest indoor tennis event in the world is always enthusiastic, especially for Murray, but this year it promised to be of a new level. And he knew it:
“I feel maybe a little more relaxed coming in this year than I have done in previous years because I’ve managed to win the US Open. But there’s going to be pressure on me here to play well. The only thing I can guarantee is to give 110 percent on the court, fight as hard as I can to the end of all of the matches and see where that gets me.”
His first match, in a difficult Pool A headed by Novak Djokovic, was against No5 seed Tomas Berdych, and the Czech led their head-to-head 4-3. Their last meeting was in New York, a straightforward, straight sets win for Murray in the semis.
However since then, Murray had played—and won—less than Berdych. The Czech won two Davis Cup rubbers in Argentina to help take his country to the final, reached the semis in Shanghai and won in Stockholm, finishing with the quarters in Paris last week. It took him to a 16-2 indoor record for the year and, what’s more, Berdych reached the semis here last year.
In this confrontation, both fought for control early on, though it took them a while to find a rhythm on their serve. Murray opened the match with two return-of-serve winners and then had two break points before Berdych held.
Murray had another chance in the fifth game—this time from 40-0 up—only to see Berdych take five points in a row and then pressure the Murray serve. The Czech did not miss his chance and a strong love service hold took him to 5-2.
Murray had one more chance to break with Berdych serving for the set but a serve-and-volley winner saved the day, and the set was the Czech’s, 6-3.
The strong Czech continued to play offensively, ‘doing a Murray’ by taking a huge lunge inside baseline to receive serve. He earned two break points but now the Murray serving began to play a bigger part and he fired off a couple of 130-plus deliveries to hold.
In a reversal of the first set, Murray did the same to Berdych, going 40-0 up for three break points, but was pulled back to deuce. He got another bite of the cherry, though, and this time made no mistake. He, like Berdych in the first, consolidated the break with a love hold but led his opponent by just two points overall—and it certainly felt closer than the scoreline suggested.
That was until the latter half of the set, with the Murray serve pumping at 135 on a regular basis. It saved him at deuce in the seventh and took him to a 6-3 set to level the match.
In the decider, a break again came early, and it was to Murray in the third game. Where in the first set he had looked irritable at his lack of consistency he now looked more relaxed and it showed in his play. Yet serving at 4-3, there had been only one break point and one ace apiece—the serving percentage for both dropped below the 50 percent mark. That first delivery made a huge difference: Murray won every point off his first serve and, with perfect timing, he found two aces to take the score to 5-3.
Murray served for the match at 5-4 with the two men locked at 25 errors apiece but the Scot had half a dozen more winners. There were some nervous moments as Berdych took on the net attack again—a profitable tactic that had produced 15 winners from 20 approaches. He pushed the scoreline to 40-30 but Murray preserved his 100 percent record on first serve points and roared himself on just as loudly as the crowd did. He afterwards talked of how valuable that had been:
“It’s important the last week of the year, when everyone’s a little bit tired, to have that atmosphere, the big crowd to give you that little extra push…The noise and atmosphere at the start of the match was great, and that does help to give you a little boost.”
So the match was his, 6-4, and the first step on his tricky road to what he hopes will be the semis for a third time had been successfully taken. He certainly looked in no danger of the early exit he made with injury last year: His movement was nimble, quick and committed. Off court, he looked and sounded relaxed to the point of horizontal. It all bodes very well.
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BIOGRAPHY: Marcus Rashford