“I’m getting closer,” Andy Murray said, rubbing his eyes, trying to choke back the tears and gulping down deep breaths. He had just lost his fourth grand slam final, and his third to Roger Federer, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. Britain’s long wait for a Wimbledon champion will have to go on for another year. A nation sighed.
But, in truth, what Murray achieved over the course of three hours and 24 minutes on Sunday will have made everyone in the locker room take note.
In his previous three finals, he was a shadow of the player who had fought through the draw to reach the last hurdle. In his first final [in 2008], he was just inexperienced; in his next two – both in Australia – he was overwhelmed [against Federer in 2010] and oddly unsure of what he was supposed to be doing [against Djokovic the following year]. In three attempts, he failed to win so much as a set.
This time, he was focused, he was determined and, in the end, he was just outplayed by a supreme and sublime Swiss magician who was fighting for his own place in history: his record-equalling seventh trophy in SW19 and a 286th week as the world No.1, a record to equal Pete Sampras’s reign at the top.
After the tears have been wiped away and he has had a few days to think about what he has achieved, Murray ought to return to the All England Club grass for the Olympics with a greater, deeper belief that he is the man to beat the three greats who have dominated the grand slam circuit for so long. As for the US Open at the end of the summer, that is played on a hard court, the surface that suits his game more than any other. For all that Sunday’s loss hurt, what he accomplished at Wimbledon this summer can only make him stronger and more confident as he plans the rest of his year. There is plenty more to come from Scotland’s finest – just ask Federer.
“I think he's giving himself so many looks at big titles,” the Swiss said, the trophy now safely back in his hands. “I really do believe deep down in me he will win grand slams, not just one. I do wish him all the best. This is genuine. He works extremely hard. He's as professional as you can be. Today I'm sure he got another step closer to a grand slam title for him. I really do believe and hope for him that he's going to win one soon.”
To have broken through the reinforced concrete barrier that is Britain’s history at Wimbledon and become the first home-grown finalist in 74 years was a mighty achievement for the Scot. It also one that forged his relationship with the Centre Court crowd – they absolutely adore young Mr Murray now. They cheered his every shot (and welcomed him on to the court with a wall of sound), they lifted him when he was down and they rejoiced with him when he won. Murray and the British tennis watching public is a love affair that will last a lifetime after this past fortnight.
To lose that first Wimbledon final cannot be regarded as a failure. If he bombs out in the Olympics and loses early at the US Open then perhaps it might be the time to discuss missed opportunities. But if Ivan Lendl, Murray’s coach, has anything to do with it, Murray will come back from this year’s Wimbledon as better player and an even harder competitor.
The Wimbledon faithful will have to wait for another year for their British champion but on what Murray has shown over the past two weeks, it looks likely that it may only be a matter of months before Britain gets its first grand slam champion since 1936. Roll on the US Open.