Catharsis. Expiation. Pure, unbridled release. Andy Murray’s primal roar after Novak Djokovic’s final netted backhand signified all of these things and more, but for some reason he felt it necessary to turn directly towards the press box as he did so, hollering his lungs out and pumping his fists like pistons.
By Oliver Brown, Wimbledon
08 July 2013
Photo: EDDIE MULHOLLAND
The Scot’s gesture, in essence, appeared to ask: “So what do you all think about that, then?” And those for whom it was intended, just like the other 15,000 souls driven half-mad by the tension and the Centre Court heat, were only too happy to stand in salute.
There was a thought that perhaps Murray was disorientated, that he assumed he was on the opposite baseline and looking straight at his player’s box, but it turned out that the celebration had been very pointed.
Smiling wryly, as he recalled his once-strained relations with the fourth estate, he admitted: “I was staring in the direction of a few of you guys in the press. There’s a subconscious part of me that did that. I know how important it was that I won this tournament. And I tried. I worked as hard as I could to do it.”
Murray bore a glazed expression. Having consummated his life’s work, and exorcised a national demon of 77 years’ standing at the age of 26, he was wheeled through the customs of thanking a selection of Royal Box dignitaries, posing at all angles with the Challenge Cup and waving to a crazed crowd from the court’s south west balcony, he still looked as if he had not even begun to compute the magnitude of the accomplishment.
“Can’t believe it,” he said, puffing out his cheeks and running a hand through his hair. Neither could girlfriend Kim Sears in her mint green dress, incredulously holding her head and gasping at Murray’s winning point as though she could barely breathe. No wonder. So still was the air, so palpable the anxiety in that stomach-churning third set, that there were moments when it seemed like all the oxygen had been sucked out of this venerable old amphitheatre.
So seldom is one able to glimpse the making of British sporting history in the raw, and the collective restlessness for it to happen became close to unbearable.
At one stage Murray had to stop in the middle of his service motion as a giant Airbus A380 flew overhead – although, so total was the silence of expectation, that one suspected a butterfly flapping its wings on Court 14 would have had much the same effect. Little did that plane’s passengers realise, as they gazed down upon a broiling south west London afternoon, that were putting off our Wimbledon champion-in-waiting.
The temperature read 80 degrees, but in the crucible of so punishing a confrontation, where the first four games alone lasted 27 minutes, the mercury nudged above 100.
In this suffocating bowl every snap shot of the scene appeared sharpened, every tiny noise amplified. When umpire Mohamed Lahyani portentously called out “love-30” during a Murray service game you would have thought, from the anguished murmurs and the shuffling in seats, that it prefigured the end of the world.
All around the temptation was to look for clues, harbingers for how it might all unfold. There in the front row of the Royal Box sat the Prime Minister, whose now-traditional goodwill messages to our sportsmen and women have carried all the serendipity of some diabolical hex. Would his mere presence sabotage a magnificent story?
Of course not. The key to this most engrossing narrative lay not with David Cameron, Wayne Rooney, Victoria Beckham, or with any of the eclectic smorgasbord of luminaries in attendance. It lay only with an iron-willed lad from Dunblane, whose inspiration and intensity under the most cumbersome of pressure never ceased to astonish.
The way Murray weathered the loss of three championship points in the final game, finally converting at his fifth attempt, shredded the nerves and tested the heart rates of all who saw it. “You should have tried playing it,” he shot back, deadpan as ever.
Gaggles of girls shrieked, prematurely, during the last rallies as they willed at least one of Djokovic’s devilishly-sliced backhands to go long. A lone cry of “Come on, Novak” was silenced with mass hissing, a fire extinguisher of British censoriousness. But when the deed was done, the devil finally conquered, the place erupted in a paroxysm of ear-splitting euphoria.
Murray, when he finished cavorting for the press, crouched on the ground, head bowed. Eventually he summoned the composure to talk to Sue Barker – no tears this time – and mounted that famous platform where he could kiss Kim, hug Ivan Lendl and, touchingly, find his mother Judy, briefly lost amid the clamour.
To glance away from this for a second was to see grown men dabbing their eyes, women in summer dresses weeping for joy. It is often easy to be cynical about these displays of public emoting, but not on Sunday, as Murray’s victory crossed standard boundaries. It transcended, too, Wimbledon’s reputation as the great carnival of Middle England. This was for everybody.
It was for all those stalwarts of ‘The Queue’, who had waited all night just to be able to sit on the hill. It was for his family, for all the relatives, friends and passing acquaintances congregated back home in the hostelries of Dunblane.
Most of all, though, it was for the whole country, for a British public belatedly realising since the Olympics that we are really rather good at sport.
The gift that Murray bequeathed here was more than we could have ever reasonably hoped for, on a weekend when the British and Irish Lionsalso galvanised the national mood with their stunning triumph against Australia in Sydney. With Chris Froome still wearing yellow in the Tour de France, there could yet be more to come.
Above all, however, it was thanks to Murray that everyone but everyone, apart perhaps from a few disconsolate Serbians in the Djokovic camp, could smile in the sunshine and look towards our sporting future in happiness and hope.