A moment in time: The fairytale of New York – Andy Murray claims his first Grand Slam
There will be no Andy Murray-Novak Djokovic reunion at the 2022 Madrid Open, but we are all nostalgic and decided to go back in time to relive Murray’s 2012 US Open victory over Djokovic.
When Andy Murray was defeated in four sets by Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final, the Scot tried to hold back the tears during a gracious but emotive post-match speech. “I’m getting closer,” he said with a deadpan delivery and a smile that translated into “help me”. He could “cry like Roger” but wished he could play like him. Things changed that day on July 8. Britain’s best tennis player was loved.
The SW19 defeat was Murray’s fourth Grand Slam final loss and his mother talked of the total devastation that would follow in the days after. There were key signs of progress though. Boris Becker insisted that the 25-year-old had “played like a champion”. He took the game to the Swiss, broke him immediately and wasn’t far from going two sets up.
Crucially, there was much to take the mind off the loss with the reset of a glorious Olympic summer in London.
Just four weeks later, Murray took his A-game onto the same court to annihilate the same opponent in straight sets for a gold medal. The festival atmosphere of that Sunday in August was a catalyst for ending the nearly man narrative.
Murray had also defeated Novak Djokovic 7-5, 7-5 in the semi-final on the way. It was an important staging post for what was to come in Flushing Meadows. He was a different beast at the Olympic version of Wimbledon, spanking volleys, dinking delightful drop shots and generally playing up to a looser vibe in the crowd. “It’s the most fun I’ve had at any tournament,” he declared after beating the Serb.
He bounced into the US Open with vigour, powering past Milos Raonic, Marin Cilic, and Tomas Berdych, conqueror of Federer in the quarter-finals. Djokovic had looked equally supreme in swatting aside Stan Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro and then David Ferrer after the Spaniard had taken the first set. These two players born only a week apart were by far the best players on show for the fortnight
“I don’t think there’s any clear favourite,” Djokovic insisted. “He’s looking for his first Grand Slam title. I’m sure he’s going to be very motivated, and hopefully we can come up with our best tennis for this crowd.”
The Serbian and then five-time major winner was defending the crown he won against Rafael Nadal in his stellar 2011 as well as a 27-match winning streak on hard courts in majors. Murray had beaten him earlier in the year in Miami but had yet to crack the code to the five-set safe.
The inclement weather had set the match back to the Monday and the windy conditions were more reminiscent of Glasgow than the glamour capital of the world. Sir Sean Connery and Sir Alex Ferguson took their seats as a new emboldened Murray came to the party. After trading breaks in their opening games, both players used their phenomenal flex and fitness to contort their positions to adjust.
As they clambered into their shots, the clock ticked into an inevitable tiebreak that was almost like a mini-set in itself. Five times, Murray had set point and five times the master repeller resisted with his frame rotating from an impossibly stretchy set of coordinates. A sixth chance was taken with an unreturned serve after 87 minutes. “Come on” bellowed Murray.
He did come on. A lot. The second set looked a formality at 4-0 up with two breaks. Murray, probably on auto relaxant at this stage, then started to ease off and the Djoker pounced to get back at 5-5. Murray fell back on his clutch the thigh routine which generally means trouble is brewing mentally. He pulled himself up just in time to hold serve and, after a 31-shot rally in the next game, Djokovic dumped a forehand wide to cede the second chapter 7-5. Even Ivan ‘No Pulse’ Lendl looked animated.
The comeback road was open once Djokovic started the guttural roar while Murray dutifully took on the role of berating himself. He quickly lost the third 6-2 and the world number two just kept coming, winning numerous advances to the net and then pumping himself up in between with an icy glare to the umpire thrown in. The fourth set was gone 6-3.
Murray isn’t exactly a fan of bathroom breaks. As he wandered off court to the cubicle near the players’ entrance to Arthur Ashe in prep for a decider, a pep talk to himself ensued: “So I started talking. Out loud. ‘You are not losing this match,’ I said to myself. ‘You are not losing this match.’ I started out a little tentative but my voice got louder. ‘You are not going to let this one slip. This is your time. At first, I felt a bit weird, but I felt something change inside me. I was surprised by my response. I knew I could win.”
Dunblane’s finest started to rediscover the freedom he brought from the beginning of the match. He immediately broke in the opening game of the decider and then towed out all his industrial defence tools to fend off the rocket fire of his opponent. When the reigning champion netted a backhand it was a double break until the Glaswegian’s curly hair and nerves began to fray. A pounding love service game steadied the ship for port. Djokovic looked spent, off-balance, and almost immobile as he lost his serve and called a medical timeout at 2-5.
It only delayed the inevitable as Murray served out without any huge resistance to take the prize. Just under five hours of widescreen tennis whiplash had finally fallen on the side of the Scot. He had survived the initiation to the elite club at the fifth attempt.
The new world No 3 covered his face with both hands and, respectfully, made his way over to the man who he had knocked about with since they met at an under-12s tournament in the south of France. The emotion was there but the overriding feeling was subdued.
As the man said: “‘Relief’ is probably the best word I would use to describe how I’m feeling just now. You do think, ‘Is this ever going to happen?'” It did, Andy. It did.
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