ANDY Murray not only won his first Grand Slam title in the early hours of Tuesday. He set the clock on Phase Two of a career which, despite evidence of the highest talent, had so frequently been threatened by a critical failure to move beyond his own deepest fear.
Report by Independent
It was that he was born at the wrong time in too much intimidating company (Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic) and that whatever he did, and however sublimely he sometimes did it, his destiny was never to finish better than second.
Fifteen months ago, at a Wimbledon where he suffered a failure of nerve against Nadal — a year ahead of another one against Federer in his fourth major final — Murray’s potential fate, his haunting status as the player who had everything but one last notch of self-belief, was graphically described by the 1996 champion Richard Krajicek.
The old rocket server was worried that the 24-year-old Scot would never be able to produce his own feat under the shadow of the most formidable opposition. This was because when the Dutchman ambushed the great Pete Sampras he believed he had a free run to the title. He said: “I don’t believe there has ever quite been such quality at the top of tennis as we have now. For Andy the fear must be that when he knocks down one great player another one is standing in his way.”
Not any more, not after the fiery, resilient rite of passage in New York.
Murray beat a Djokovic who in recent years has been playing some of the most breathtaking tennis the world has seen. In the course of his US Open triumph last year, the Serb produced shots which rendered even the great Federer slack-jawed.
He overwhelmed Nadal for his first Wimbledon title while conjuring work which would have been unfamiliar to even some of the greatest of champions and this was the man we were reminded of when he levelled a two-set deficit in the five-hour battle that raged in Flushing Meadows.
If you wanted, then, to back the winner of an outright battle of will there was surely only one place to put your money. Or so it seemed right up to the moment when Murray confirmed the growing sense that, under the tutelage of the old champion Ivan Lendl and his own willingness to look at himself more stringently than ever before, he was indeed remaking himself — not as some perennial carrier of mere promise but someone with the authentic aura of a likely champion.
Such a possibility had never seemed less remote than earlier this summer when only a sublime performance by Federer at Wimbledon overcame Murray’s best effort in a Grand Slam final. That impression of someone who had indeed analysed his past and committed himself to new levels of resolution, and self-awareness, was then brilliantly extended by his winning of Olympic gold, something that was plainly high in the sights of such rivals as Djokovic and Federer.
That might not have been quite a coming of competitive age — this would happen in New York — but it was the most encouraging evidence that Murray was indeed perfectly in tune with the demands made when the taciturn, remote Lendl agreed to pass on all that he had learnt about the demands of being a major league champion.
This, of course, was a status which did not come to him until his fifth Grand Slam final. It made perfect symmetry of thought and understanding of what was required when Murray ended the 76-year-old British men’s singles drought that came after the natural-born winner Fred Perry.
Murray, the record states clearly enough, was not born to win in quite the same swaggering way. His assumption that it was his right did not come, as it did to Perry, the ferociously driven son of a socialist MP, in the cradle. Nature’s gift to Murray was a natural ability to play at the game. What he had to take for himself was a much deeper understanding of what it might take to build on those gifts.
This was the true measure of Murray’s marathon breakthrough. Gone, almost entirely, were the histrionics, the tortured denouncements of fate and the shortcomings he brought to the court.
Gone, too, was the idea that he was the victim of some unbreakable conspiracy.
Murray beat Djokovic — and in the process produced some tennis which stood with great brilliance entirely in its own right — in a way that must surely have dismissed the most damaging possibilities of that old doubt. It was a triumph not only of dazzling accomplishment but superbly summoned will.
Along the way, it reminded us that champions are made in different ways. For Murray the distinction he took for himself was perhaps not a birthright. But it was something he worked for despite a great mound of discouraging circumstances.
This, of course, made it all the sweeter.