Crazy Fairytale Tennis: A Fortnight At Wimbledon

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Andy Murray looked down, then up towards the cavernous Centre Court roof. He wiped at his face, before lurching into juddering speech.

“Right, I’m going to try this, and it’s not going to be easy…”

His voice broke. He breathed. He wiped his eyes. He tried again.

This was Wimbledon 2012 – the infamous runner-up speech where the mask slipped a little, and the British public first truly opened their hearts to the young man from Dunblane. He was trying to do what no man had done in over 70 years at SW19. It certainly was never going to be easy; and he certainly tried again.

This year, Wimbledon was chaos. Three days in, and events prompted this from Chris Evert; “I never, ever, envisioned a day like this, ever, in tennis history at a Grand Slam. I am still in a daze… and this is only the 3rd day…” Nadal had been booted in Round One; Federer was shockingly ousted in Round Two. Ten years ago, the resilient, elegant champion rose into the top four for the first time; today, he falls from it for the first time since. Serena, too, had faded against Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round. We watched a changing of the guard; the old order has faded.

So out of chaos, a hero rises – or so the narrative goes. On the women’s side, for a time, Lisicki was that hero. The perpetually smiling young talent won the hearts of many as she progressed further and further through the draw; past Williams, then Kanepi, then Radwanska in dramatic fashion to reach her first Grand Slam final. It had all the makings of a proper fairytale.

The final was a different fairytale though, with Marion Bartoli, the star. Just one player has been a fixture of the WTA Top 20 for every week of the past 6 years, and last Saturday she was finally rewarded for her consistent brilliance. Even the sexist comments of commentator John Inverdale would not dampen Bartoli’s spirit. She said afterwards, “Have I dreamed about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.” This, and the sportsmanship demonstrated by herself and Lisicki as they walked off court, arm in arm, was wholly inspiring.

So what to say about the inspiration provided by the men’s final? Exhausting. Exhilarating. 3 straight sets. Novak Djokovic has inflicted misery on other players – not least Murray himself – by pulling off jaw-dropping comebacks from the brink of defeat over recent years, and so we could barely even dare to hope that Murray might pull it off. Nobody has won Wimbledon since 1927 without having won the first two sets. However, statistics lie. Nobody else since 1927 has pulled off as many improbable victories as Novak Djokovic; to the racing minds of the nervous Murray fans, losing always felt so possible. Murray was up a break in the third then lost it… and then he was broken again. In the mind of a Murray fan, an inevitable fifth set wilting beckoned, as did the sight of Djokovic holding thetrophy aloft.

The last game was full of grit, panic, elation, edge-of-your-seat torture. Murray was serving to become Wimbledon champion. He meandered to the baseline as the crowd screamed and chanted his name. Then, Djokovic went long. Murray’s forehand thwacked away a winner. Djokovic went long. 40-0 and suddenly, finally, winning was a formality. Or not – a volley, a winner, and an error, then another, and break point Djokovic. The formality was teetering on the brink of collapsing back into miserable uncertainty. Yet, the break point was saved – gallantly. Then another. Then another. Deuce. An incredible rally followed, in which Murray capitalised on the weakness of Djokovic’s smashes and demonstrated his incredible speed around the court to catch a drop shot. A fourth championship point.

It took 77 minutes after Djokovic’s final backhand limply fell against the net for a picture of an overzealous fan, who had got the words, ‘Andy Murray Wimbledon Champion 2013’ tattooed on his posterior, to begin circulating on Twitter. Ivan Lendl even smiled.

As for the rest of us, we were happy to see a shy, brilliant man finally get what he deserved. Murray constantly thanked the crowd, and his fans, and everyone who had ever sent him good wishes along the way. The truth is, no British sporting star has ever had to face a moment of such incredible pressure comparable to the moment at 5-4 in the third set where Murray walked out to serve for sporting immortality. The weight of expectation has been a burden and had encouraged disdainful attitudes towards his immense success when Murray didn’t quite give us everything we wanted at the time. Yet, how can anyone refuse to be in awe of the genuine passion and effort and determination that Murray has displayed – whether he was tearing up over a Runners Up plate, or leaping into the air following an incredible 5-set comeback?

It’s been a 77-year-long wait for a male singles champion. Thank you, Andy. It’s been worth it.

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