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Murray wins gold at Wimbledon
Andy Murray has watched enough Centre Court celebrations to know what Wimbledon winners typically do, and he obliged rather thoroughly Sunday despite never having done so himself.
He dropped to his knees at the service line.
He man-hugged Roger Federer — the man he had just beaten, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, for the gold medal — at the net.
He climbed into the stands to kiss his girlfriend.
Then, this being an Olympic match, he added a few wrinkles for the partisan fans who had been with him all day. The Scotsman jumped in the air, fists pumping, and wrapped himself in a British flag as they sang "God Save The Queen" in unison while the medal dangled from his neck.
"The atmosphere in all the stadiums, everybody has just been so happy to be a part of it," Murray said.
It was this self-fulfilling circle of optimism, Murray feeding off the crowd and the crowd emboldened by his success and so on and so forth until the whole vibe felt so very not British.
After being in London for almost two weeks, my third trip to this city, I think I finally have figured out the Brits. They relish seeing the pint glass as not simply half empty, but also cracked and leaking. When Brits ask me what I think of these Olympics and I say I love them, they seem genuinely surprised. Isn’t security bad? Traffic is awful, right? And did I understand the opening ceremony?
It is not that they are not patriotic. They are, impressively so.
They just start from a really dark place and have to be cajoled into seeing the positive. This may be weather-related. It is damn dreary here for the middle of summer, and there is genius in low expectations. Anything aside from abject failure is an improvement.
This is why the dour Murray is their perfect sporting anti-hero — immensely talented and yet never quite able to break through for whatever reason.
With Murray playing for his country, with a little more rowdy crowd, they jumped behind him early and stayed with him. Chants of “Andy, Andy” rollicked through Centre Court, and he responded with fist pumps.
These were not your typical All England Club polite clappers. These were Brits, and they were not here to honor a Wimbledon legend in Federer — they wanted their guy, and it actually felt like they believed in him.
"I have lost a lot of tough matches and had a lot of questions asked about me," Murray said. "This has been the best week of my tennis career by a mile."
The famous venue featured other Olympic matches Sunday — Juan Martin del Potro defeated Novak Djokovic for bronze, while Serena and Venus Williams easily won doubles gold.
But this day belonged to the Brits. Really, this whole weekend did.
Murray joined British heptathlete Jessica Ennis and 10,000-meter runner Mo Farrah in bringing gold to the host country. And if London shook from screaming Saturday for track, Sunday was just a smidge better simply because of the history.
Barely a month ago, Murray lost a heartbreaking Wimbledon final to Federer on this very court. Broke down in tears afterward, and we all admired him in that moment. I know I did. It was a sign of how much he cared, and there was something about the way he said, “I’m getting closer” that made me hope that was indeed the truth and not simply a brave face.
The thing was not that Murray was not good enough, as was evidenced on Sunday. His resolve seemed to wane midway through the Wimbledon match, like the idea of possibly beating Federer intimidated him. There came a point in that match when it seemed nobody believed in Murray’s chances of winning.
There were many who thought it might take a while for him to get over falling to Federer yet again. It took a month.
“What I was happy to see is he never had a letdown after the Wimbledon finals,'' Federer said.
"He didn’t do that. He came in and won gold, so I think this is how champions react, and that is more what I see about him beating me and beating Novak back to back. We knew he could do that, that he was a threat.
“For me, it’s been a great month. I won Wimbledon, became world No. 1 again, and I got silver. Don’t feel too bad for me.”
Watching how Federer played — so many unforced errors, losing nine straight games, double faulting on a break point — compared with how he played at Wimbledon less than four weeks ago had the effect of people assuming he lost rather than Murray won.
It did sort of feel like he won the one that he wanted, another grand slam, and was OK with Murray winning Sunday.
I thought this right until I listened to Federer. He talked about how much playing in the Olympics means to him, about tearing up doing interviews after his first match, about the Olympic spirit, how he feels about playing for Switzerland.
He was so pro-Olympics he sounded like Jacques Rogge in a speech to sponsors. He even joked about possibly retiring and then coming back to play for Switzerland in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, or at least I think he was joking.
The point is, he was trying, and Murray was better, at least on this day. This might have had to do with the room being open — the rain breaking just in time — or with his marathon match the other day or just the perils of getting old and having a target on your back.
“Look, he did well,” Federer said. “I did well. But I guess I messed up. … I was very happy for him that he was able to bring such a performance and bring home a gold for Great Britain. It was a long time coming, and he did great.”
The greatness of Federer is not simply that he can play this way or keep playing this way but that, after all this time, he still wants it this badly. This is the guy Murray beat on Sunday.
The rains stopped. The roof opened.
And the Brits and he shed their national pessimism for a day. They believed in happy endings, and their sometimes dour Scotsman delivered.