Springing out from the shadows
TENNIS US OPEN:THE BIG Three is finally and undeniably now the Big Four. After years of chasing the lead group of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray joined their golden-age club in earnest on a blustery Monday afternoon that turned into a chilly Monday night at the US Open.
Murray won his first Grand Slam title by beating Djokovic, his boyhood and adulthood rival, at his own game: absorbing pace and tracking down should-be winners again and again; by appearing weary and down on his luck and then finding deep and decisive reserves of energy.
He did it by trumping his own perfectionist streak and the negativity that has long accompanied it: letting a few groans and longshoreman-worthy oaths escape his Scottish lips but never allowing himself to exit this monumental match emotionally or mentally on his way to a 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 win.
Epic is an overused word in tennis, particularly in this era when rallies and finals routinely extend to tremendous lengths. But this four hour, 54 minute mettle detector of a US Open final was worthy of the term as was Murray’s own personal quest for possession of one of the trophies that continue to define tennis careers.
“He absolutely deserves it,” Djokovic said.
Murray was born and raised in Dunblane, Scotland, a small, quaint Scottish city of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants whose idyll was brutally interrupted in his childhood when a gunman massacred 16 children and a teacher in the gymnasium of Murray’s small primary school when Murray was eight.
But in the course of his barrier-breaking career, Murray has generated much more positive global associations for his hometown. He took an atypical path to make it. While other top British prospects stayed close to home, Murray felt that he needed to force himself out of his comfort zone to compete with the likes of Nadal, one of his measuring sticks as a junior.
And so at 15, Murray based himself in Nadal’s home country: training in Barcelona. He and Djokovic also crossed paths early, playing for the first time at age 11 in a junior tournament in France and later developing a friendship and playing doubles together on tour.
It can not have been easy for Murray to watch Nadal, who now has 11 major titles, and Djokovic, who now has five, reach the summit first and often at Murray’s expense. But for all his talent, touch and speed, he lacked their poise and maturity in major matches; perhaps lacked their belief, as well.
He broke into the top 20 in 2006 at age 19; broke into the top 10 in 2008, the year he reached his first Grand Slam final. That came at the US Open, and he lost to Federer, which was absolutely no surprise or disgrace but the start of a nasty pattern.
Murray lost the 2010 Australian Open final to Federer, the 2011 Australian Open final to Djokovic and this year’s Wimbledon final to Federer, too. That made him 0-4 in Grand Slam finals, just as his new coach, Ivan Lendl, was before he changed his luck in 1984.
But Murray, who had taken months to recover from previous big-match disappointment, snapped back quickly to win the gold medal at the same club against the same opponent at the Olympics in August. It was not the Grand Slam title he had been chasing since his youth but it certainly felt major.
“That’s why I came on board, to help Andy win,” Lendl said on Monday night. “With the Olympics, he already had won a big one in my mind. It’s maybe more difficult to win than the others because you have one chance in four years and here you have four chances in one year.”