Correction appended: July 8, 2013, 5:30 a.m. E.T.
For a long time, many in the tennis world believed this day would never come. Andy Murray was too inconsistent, too brash and too surly to win a Grand Slam tournament, let alone the grandest of them all: Wimbledon. The Glasgow native played his first major championship in 2005 at the age of 18, but struggled to immediately live up to his otherworldly talent. Until 2008, when he reached the quarterfinals at the All England Club and the finals at the U.S. Open, Murray was little more than an afterthought in the tennis world — cannon fodder (like countless others) for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
After his quarterfinal appearance, however, the narrative changed for Murray. He reached the semifinal at Wimbledon the following year. And the year after that. And the one after that too. Murray also made consecutive finals at the Australian Open in 2010 and 2011. He was a player with talents so obvious to all who watched him play — the “Big Three” of Federer, Nadal and Novak Djokovic had inevitably expanded to the “Big Four” by 2011 — yet was so obviously incapable of making the most of those talents. Though he had reached three consecutive Wimbledon semifinals, there was serious concern in England (and throughout the tennis world) that he would be unable to fulfill his preordained destiny to be the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry won the last of his three Wimbledon titles in 1936.
Then there was the old adage that has hounded Murray for much of his career: “A Brit when he wins and a Scot when he doesn’t.” English tennis fans had endured too many heartbreaking defeats since Perry’s last title — most recently those of Tim Henman — to fully embrace an inconsistent youngster who appeared unable of becoming anything more than the tour’s fourth best player, especially a sullen Scot. They cheered for Murray, yes, but never with the full-throated support that they had once lent Henman.
That all changed last year. With the help of new coach Ivan Lendl (who had never won Wimbledon himself and made Murray look positively ebullient in comparison), Murray reached the final at the All England Club, squaring off against longtime Wimbledon darling Federer. Throughout the match, the crowd was firmly on Murray’s side but appeared reluctant to fully dismiss Federer, for whom they had shown a deep admiration over the previous decade. Ultimately, Federer pulled off the four-set victory for his record-tying seventh Wimbledon title. Though Murray had lost the match, he won the hearts of the crowd with his postmatch speech, breaking down and finally demonstrating in the most public fashion what tennis fans had believed all along: he wanted nothing more than to win Wimbledon.
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That show of genuine emotion was all fans in England needed — well, along with an Olympic gold medal at the All England Club the next month, followed by his first Grand Slam title in Flushing Meadows at the end of the summer — to throw its full support behind Murray. From the first point of his finals match against Djokovic yesterday, Murray had the crowd fully behind him.
Murray came out of the gates strong against the world’s top-ranked player, taking full advantage of the five-set marathon Djokovic had played against Juan Martín del Potro just 48 hours earlier. From the get-go, Murray put Djokovic on the defensive, breaking him twice in the opening set and forcing uncharacteristic errors from the No. 1 seed. The man whom John McEnroe calls “the greatest returner in the history of the sport” was anything but on Sunday as Murray aced Djokovic nine times and won 72% of his first serves. Perhaps even more telling was how unnerved Djokovic seemed for most of the match — committing 40 unforced errors to Murray’s 21.
And yet what proved to be the determining factor was the mental edge that Murray carried over his longtime foe throughout the final. Earlier in his career, Murray was widely criticized — fairly or otherwise — for his poor attitude on the court. When breaks went against him or he got discouraged, Murray often seemed to throw in the towel, unwilling to believe he could overcome the adversity placed before him. That was far from the case on Sunday. Instead, the Scotsman survived four breaks of his own serve and seemingly used lost points and squandered opportunities to strengthen his resolve. Djokovic is correctly credited with having the best siege mentality in all of tennis (he fought off three championship points in the deciding game of the third set, earned a pair of break points and seemed poised for a comeback before Murray finally put him away), but Murray proved himself every bit as mentally tough throughout the match, which he won in straight sets 6-4, 7-5, 6-4.
In all likelihood, this is just the beginning for Murray. He’s only 26 and has lost just one meaningful match since last year’s Wimbledon tournament (vs. Djokovic in the Australian Open final), winning an Olympic gold medal and two of the three majors he’s participated in since then. For most British tennis players, exorcising Perry’s ghost would be the crowning achievement of their career, but Murray is too talented, too poised and too versatile for that to be his lone legacy. He’s no longer the brash, sullen and underachieving star that he once was. He is a Wimbledon champion that Britain can call its own, and on Sunday he succeeded in changing the narrative of British tennis. But make no mistake about it, the story of Andy Murray, tennis star, is far from over.
An earlier version of this article misstated Andy Murray’s age. He is 26, not 25.