Tennis

Murray gets his day at Wimbledon

Britain's Andy Murray raises the winner's trophy
Andy Murray won his first Wimbledon championship in straight sets Sunday.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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LONDON

This one is forever. For Andy Murray. For Britain. It took forever.

It lasts forever.

Andy Murray is the Wimbledon champion. How many times has he heard that in his head over the years? How old was he the first time? How many times has he told himself he’d never get there? He beat Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 Sunday, and is the first Brit to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.

Understand that for the Brits, this is like the Boston Red Sox finally winning the World Series. It would be like the Chicago Cubs ... well, let’s be serious.

Sometimes, it seems impossible breaking forever, making forever.

“I think I persevered,’’ Murray said. “That’s really been it, the story of my career probably.’’

We’ve seen this journey for years, Murray’s and the Brits' together. We’ve seen him cry. We’ve seen the Brits place so much pressure on him with cover-to-cover tabloid mania. For so long, the Brits, so naturally pessimistic, surrounded him with daily panic that he just might lose. Murray had the same feelings.

It was self-fulfilling.

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The truth is, his British connection is so much deeper, tied all the way to an unforgettable tragedy. In 1996, when Murray was 8, a gunman entered his school in Dunblane, Scotland, and shot 16 kids -- 5- and 6-year olds -- and a teacher to death. The gunman then took his own life.

Murray was hiding under the desk of the headmaster.

He doesn’t talk about it, but did say in his book that his family had known the shooter, and had driven him places.

“That is probably another reason why I don’t want to look back at it,’’ he wrote in his book “Hitting Back.’’ “It is just so uncomfortable to think that it was someone we knew from the Boys Club. We used to go to the club and have fun. Then to find out he’s a murderer was something my brain couldn’t cope with.’’

Imagine a Newtown survivor growing up to do something of such public pride. Murray’s deeply in the British fabric.

That’s what I loved about his post-match celebration. Sure, everyone jumps into the friends box now, which he did. But when he got up there, he turned and waved to the crowd.

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(As he started to climb back to the court, he discovered he hadn’t hugged his Mom, who was his coach for years: “I did forget her. I just heard her squealing when I tried to get down.’’)

The thing about tennis is that you see these guys so personally, so up close. They stand there on the court, alone, for hours and hours, fighting. They don’t talk to anyone that long (other than Murray’s screaming at his coaches, or his Mom).

There are no helmets, no timeouts, no teammates.

Nowhere to hide.

So we’ve seen Murray in tears. We’ve seen him duped by Roger Federer, who once, before a major final, noted that there was no pressure on him, but that it was all on Murray. And of course, that was a way to make Murray think about it, feel it.

It worked. Murray lost.

When he lost to Federer at Wimbledon last year, Murray started crying, and told the crowd:

“I’m getting closer.’’

Over the years, you should have seen it here. Sure, you’ve seen the crowds mobbing Henman Hill, or Murray Mound, whatever you want to call it. I remember once, as I stood in the way back on that hill, watching Murray on the big screen, a woman asked if she could sit on my shoulders.

A few minutes later, another woman asked.

While the excitement was there this year, the panic never was, in Murray or the Brits. They have a national pessimism about pretty much everything here, and I believe it all turned at the London Olympics last year.

The Brits all thought the Olympics would be a disaster. And the truth is, Murray wasn’t looking forward to the Games. After he lost to Federer in the Wimbledon final, he was ready for one of his typical post-major funks.

But he found that fans had fallen for him because of his tears. They felt sympathy for his journey. He was motivated. When the Olympics came, the tabloids couldn’t focus so much on him. That helped.

So he won gold. And the Olympics were a smashing success overall.

It was safe to believe.

Murray took that to the U.S. Open, where he beat Djokovic in the final for his first major title. He had his major, finally.

But he was always going to be defined by Wimbledon.

Well, sevens were wild Sunday. He was the first Brit man to win Wimbledon in 77 years. Virginia Wade won the women’s title in 1977. And the date Sunday? Yes: 7-7.

Murray and Djokovic are now the game’s top rivalry, as Federer is slipping and Nadal’s knees are unreliable. Murray and Djokovic have faced each other in three of the past four major finals.

And as always between these two, Sunday's match was filled with long, physical, crushing rallies. Djokovic was not at his best, and likely was worn out from his marathon semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro.

“It took a lot out of me,’’ Djokovic said. “I cannot look for excuses in the match two days ago. I’ve been in these situations before. I felt OK.

“Maybe physically, because I didn’t feel maybe I had enough gas in the important moments, I went for my shots more than usual. That’s life.’’

Murray, meanwhile, was running down dropshots all the way to the end.

In the last game, Murray was up 40-0, with three championship points. Djokovic got it back to deuce, making the wait just a little longer.

“I don’t know how I managed to come through that last game,’’ Murray said. “It was unbelievable.’’

It was forever.

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