Thanks to Murray, Britain's Wimbledon Wait Is Over

Andy Murray of Britain plays a return during a training session at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Sunday, June 23, 2013. Murray went on to win the men's title.
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In between, Murray beat Djokovic in five sets at the U.S. Open in September for Grand Slam title No. 1.

"You need that self-belief in the important moments," observed Djokovic, a six-time major champion, "and he's got it now."

Judy Murray agreed that the setback 12 months ago "was a turning point in some ways."

"Every time you have a really tough loss, a loss that really hurts you," she said, "I think you learn a lot about how to handle the occasions better going forward."

For several seasons, Murray was the outsider looking in, while Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic collected 29 out of 30 major titles. But now Murray has clearly and completely turned the Big 3 into a Big 4, having reached the finals at the last four major tournaments he entered (he withdrew from the French Open in May because of a bad back).

"I persevered," the 26-year-old Murray said. "That's really been it. The story of my career, probably. I had a lot of tough losses, but the one thing I would say is I think every year I always improved a little bit."

He showed resilience Sunday. Murray trailed 4-1 in the second set, then 4-2 in the third, before wiggling his way back in front each time.

The fans were active participants throughout, lamenting "awwww" when Murray missed a serve; cheering rowdily when he hit one of his 36 winners, five more than Djokovic; shushing in unison when someone called out in premature agony or delight while a point was in progress.

That was understandable. Points rarely are over when they appear to be if Murray and Djokovic are involved. The elastic Djokovic's sliding carries him to so many shots, while Murray is more of a powerful scrambler. It took a half-hour to get through the opening five games, in part because 10 of 32 points lasted at least 10 strokes apiece. And this all happened with the temperature above 80 degrees, only the occasional puff of cloud interrupting the blue sky.

Born a week apart in May 1987, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic and No. 2 Murray have known each other since they were 11, and they grasp the ins and outs of each other's games so well.

This was their 19th meeting on tour (Djokovic leads 11-8), and their fourth in a Grand Slam final, including three in the past year. Both are fantastic returners, and Murray broke seven times Sunday, once more than Djokovic lost his serve in the preceding six matches combined.

Down the stretch — at least until the ultimate, difficult moments — Murray was superior, taking the last four games. He broke for a 5-4 lead when Djokovic flubbed a forehand. When Murray got out of his changeover chair, preparing to serve for the title, the sound from the stands was immense.

Djokovic missed a backhand, Murray smacked a backhand winner and added a 131 mph service winner, and suddenly one point was all that remained between him and history. That's where things got a tad complicated.

On match point No. 1, Djokovic capped a 12-stroke exchange with a forehand volley winner. On No. 2, Djokovic hit a backhand return winner off an 84 mph second serve. On No. 3, Murray sailed a backhand long on the ninth shot.

Now it was deuce.

"I started to feel nervous," Murray said.

The match continued for eight additional points. Seemed to take forever.

"My head was kind of everywhere. I mean, some of the shots he came up with were unbelievable," Murray said. "At the end of the match, I didn't quite know what was going on. Just a lot of different emotions."

Any of Djokovic's break points in that game would have made it 5-all, and who knows what toll that would have taken on Murray's mind? But Murray erased the first two chances with a 116 mph service winner, then a forehand winner on the 21st stroke.

At deuce for a third time, Djokovic conjured up a forehand passing winner to get his third break point. Murray dropped his head and placed his hands on his knees. He would not lose another point.

Admittedly feeling the effects of his five-setter Friday against Juan Martin del Potro — at 4 hours, 43 minutes, it's the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history — Djokovic wound up with 40 unforced errors, nearly double Murray's 21.