It has been a long time coming……that pesky Grand Slam title. Monday 10th September will go down as a day to remember for Andy Murray, a day when he was finally able to do what fans and the British media had spent six years hoping for.
But the US Open title is not simply a result of those fifteen days at Flushing Meadows; it is the product of long, hard-fought battle by the Scotsman.
We remember the moments before that moment, like they were yesterday….
….is probably not the worst way to have handled the four Grand Slam final defeats. The first came back in 2008 when Murray was beaten by Roger Federer in the final of the US Open, unaware that this would also be the spot where he would secure his first Grand Slam title, four years later. Already then there was a sense that Murray’s time would come – probably one of the most frequently used clichés in the history of tennis and, for Murray, one of the most painful.
In January 2010 Murray faced Roger Federer again, this time in Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne. This time Murray struggled to keep the tears away and apologised to Britain for not winning what every one of us so desperately wanted. One year later and Murray reached yet another Australian Open final, stopped this time by Novak Djokovic who, in what was a record-breaking 2011 for him, proved just too much for the Scotsman to contend with.
In late 2011 Andy Murray announces that he has hired Ivan Lendl as his new coach, a decision which is met with a great deal of scepticism amongst the British press, fans and tennis experts alike. There are serious doubts over Lendl’s ability to raise Murray’s game and to create the success that we have long yearned for. At this point in time, the Scotsman is working harder than ever in the relentless Miami heat, a fitness programme that would later become a crucial part of his pre-season training regime.
Murray and Lendl openly discuss their belief in the partnership and Lendl appears to have found some miracle cure to end the bad habits of Murray on the court. The critics are, for a while at least, silenced when Murray, in the first week of 2012, wins the Brisbane International – the perfect preparation for the Australian Open.
In Melbourne, Murray looks strong. Despite losing a set to the up-and-coming American Ryan Harrison in the first round, Murray hammers through the next four matches, losing just 25 games without dropping a set.
In the semi-final, he faces Novak Djokovic, the man that one year prior, denied him a Grand Slam win on the exact same court. 2 sets to 1 up and things are looking good. But after dropping the fourth set 6-1, Murray eventually looses 7-5 in the decider, probably the hardest defeat in his career to date.
And then the question resurfaces….Will Andy Murray ever win a Grand Slam title?
The magic of SW19
Murray reaches two more major finals in early 2012. He loses to Federer in Dubai and is once again defeated by Djokovic, this time in Miami. The clay-court season soon becomes the biggest catalyst for doubt in Murray’s mind. He crashes out in the quarters in both Monte Carlo and Barcelona to Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic respectively. In Paris, he loses to David Ferrer in four sets. Before we know it, all eyes are back on the grass season.
But it doesn’t start well. Murray loses his opener in the classic AEGON Championships at the Queens Club. Nicolas Mahut, always a tricky opponent on the grass, hands Murray the worst possible preparation to Wimbledon and suddenly the faith placed widely in the young Brit seems somewhat misplaced.
Despite the ongoing critique of the Murray-Lendl partnership, the stone-faced Czech appears to have done something right. At SW19 Murray overcomes some bouncy performances against Karlovic and Baghdatis before he convincingly disposes of Croat Marin Cilic in straight sets. Suddenly the resounding sense of positivity returns and Murray finds himself breezing past two more of the world’s greatest players, David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, to find himself in yet another Grand Slam final.
It is difficult to describe the atmosphere when Murray takes the opening set. There is a sense that maybe, just maybe, this is Murray’s time. And surely we have waited long enough for it to arrive?
But before long that ghostly centre court silence returns. Federer has bounced back and the Wimbledon crown is snatched cruelly once again from Murray’s grasp.
A month later and Murray, at last, enjoys the taste of victory, laced with amicable revenge, when he takes the Olympic title, depriving Federer of the Gold which he himself had held openly in such high regard. A straight set win, a heroic victory and the restoration of national pride; days don’t come much sweeter than this.
Soon after and Murray is back on the hard courts of America. And the rest? History.
What a journey. What an important victory.
Grand Slam holder. US Open Champion. Number one in the world? We’ll see.
Words by Asger Hess-Olesen