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September 11 2012 3 11 /09 /September /2012 05:20

Olympic spirit? Andy forged maiden Grand Slam win over long years

By Martin Samuel


Olympic legacy? Yes, in part. Yet to argue, as some will, that Andy Murray won his first Grand Slam title merely on the high of his gold medal from 2012 does great credit to the Games, but great disservice to the man.

This was a triumph earned over years, not a few brilliant weeks. Murray clawed his way to it, point by point, set by set, match by brutal match. It was a victory forged as much by heartbreak and despair as gilded discs and days of national celebration.

While Britain revelled one last time in the passing parade, Murray focused in near-solitude and prepared for the match of his life. Bradley Wiggins, Mo Farah and all his fellow Olympians could not help him now. This was his to win alone.

Britain's Andy Murray poses with the trophy after beating Serbia's Novak Djokovic


Britain's Andy Murray (right) and Serbia's Novak Djokovic hold their trophies

So if Murray had gone out on Arthur Ashe court armed only with the warm glow of Britain’s Olympic summer and a little extra confidence, he would not have stood a prayer. Chancers don’t against Novak Djokovic.

He doesn’t care about your gold medal. He doesn’t even care who you beat to claim it. He has won more tennis matches than any other player in 2012. He has won six Grand Slam titles. He won three last year and two this year. Show us your medals may be a challenge in football, but in tennis it means squat. 

This sport has its own podium and Djokovic knows where he stands on it. Higher than you, for all your precious metal.

So it wasn’t some vague Olympic spirit that took Murray, at last, to the pinnacle. It was personal resolve of the kind that ushers a man from a Celtic backwater to become US Open champion. It was that determination that earned Murray his gold medal: it wasn’t the medal that suddenly made Murray a champion.


Disbelief: Murray celebrates a truly epic victory after a near five-hour clash with Djokovic

He has been edging closer for years now. He reached a first final, then a second, then a third, lost each one to love. Then he took a set from Roger Federer in his fourth. Still lost. And many people thought it would never happen. 

That this was his burden, to be not quite good enough. Yet those that know, those that face him across the net, never agreed. They knew that with every anguished defeat, Murray looked stronger, played better, got nearer. And some of his rivals are aging, and others are injured and all are due an off day, surely just once, and then it was going to be his turn. 

Meanwhile, Murray applied the finishing touches. He recruited Ivan Lendl as his coach, tweaked his playing style a little, refocused his psychological approach. And it all added up. And then he won his gold medal. And then he won his Grand Slam.

If it was as simple as sprinkling Olympic fairy dust, then it would not have been so damnably difficult. There would not have been 55 shot rallies, and 22 point tie-breaks, and nearly five hours and comeback after comeback when Djokovic appeared beaten. He would not have responded to going two sets down by taking the third 6-2. He would not have broken back in the last.

Fighter: Djokovic battled back from two sets down and contributed hugely to a brilliant final

Fighter: Djokovic battled back from two sets down and contributed hugely to a brilliant final


Fighter: Djokovic battled back from two sets down and contributed hugely to a brilliant final

There would not have been those moments when Djokovic played brilliant, bravura tennis to win a point — a measly point — before turning to the crowd with a triumphalist roar as if his life depended on it. 

If winning a Grand Slam was the work of some golden lucky charm, the first set would not have taken one hour and 27 minutes to complete, and more than two of the first 11 points of the match would have gone with serve. 

This was a brutal, exhausting contest, sapping strength, physical and mental. Yet what of worth in sport is secured any other way?

So the manner of this victory was immense, epic, the match of anything we have seen in this remarkable summer for British sport. In many ways, for all the bleary-eyed caffeine-chugging wrecks that will be at workplaces around Britain this morning, it was better this way.

Britain's Andy Murray flips his racket while playing against Serbia's Novak Djokovic
Andy Murray of Great Britain reacts against Novak Djokovic

Ups and downs: Murray experienced an emotional rollercoaster during his win over Djokovic


Epic: The rallies between the two players were staggering as they went toe-to-toe

Epic: The rallies between the two players were staggering as they went toe-to-toe


Had Murray won in straight sets, his detractors — and they remain strangely large in number — would have argued that Djokovic was simply off the boil. That it was somehow easy. That Nadal was crocked, and Federer already eliminated, and Murray somehow fluked an unmerited victory.

Now they must accept that he is, undoubtedly the greatest British tennis player of the post-war era, and probably any other. The way Djokovic battled back from two sets down showed this monster was very much alive. Indeed, going into the last set, the monster was on the rampage.

It is testament to Murray’s fortitude, to his determination and a talent that he strives to refine every day that he won this match. So, yes, Olympic spirit, 10 per cent; Ivan Lendl 20 per cent; but sacrifice, grit and the sheer bloody brilliance of Andy Murray every last drop of the rest. 

This was his moment, his  triumph, and on one very special night in New York, he became a one-man legacy.

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