James Lawton: Young pretender unable to usurp king's divine right


The Centre Court didn't get its British champion, it didn't have any healing of the 76-year-old wound, but it was maybe not the worst of fates. It just had to go on sharing the champion of the world, the player who is nominally Swiss but above all the property of any nation which can rise up and salute the kind of talent that crosses all borders as though they do not exist.

This may not be the morning cure-all for the pain of Andy Murray, who could not be challenged for a second when he declared that he put in by far his best performance of four Grand Slam final appearances, but for Roger Federer, the man who breaks records and hearts with supreme artistry and a natural-born winning instinct, there was still another reward for quite unprecedented consistency.

When the rain came and forced on the Centre Court roof, it meant that Federer's forensically precise game would make even more remote the dream of Murray that he would be the first home-grown player to win the title since 1936.

Murray fought on with much character and spirit, but he knew he was in the grip of something close to a force of nature.

It was a brilliant final in so many ways, so taut and so luminously expressing the finest quality of two deeply talented players that it had to be rated the best since 2008.

If that sounds like mild praise we just have to remember that the one four years ago was arguably the greatest of all time. It was also deemed historic because it seemed to signal the end of Federer's finest days, the passing of the time when he could go out and explain to a ferocious young challenger like Rafael Nadal some of the most deadly nuances of the game.

Four years on, Federer is suggesting he has made some kind of deal with fate and the passing of the years.

Murray could hardly have played better, more intelligently or with better discipline. He played shots that were sublime. He fought, he scuffled and for more than three hours he consigned the memory of a superbly gifted but self-indulgent nearly-man to another lifetime. He was, to put it another way, a credit to the old champion Ivan Lendl, below, who has brought a new aura of hard-nosed professionalism to the Murray camp.

It is a place which no longer houses a superstar who might just provoke a charge of "drama queen" from the former Wimbledon women's champion Virginia Wade. No, this was a contender who made a legitimate claim to be the king of Wimbledon. Unfortunately, the man across the net kept producing a superior claim. So often it came under the category of divine right.

Murray could take much honour from the day which had galvanised much of the nation on both sides of the Scottish border but had, in the Centre Court which had so passionately supported his predecessor Tim Henman, seen – it has to noted – something less than overwhelming support.

This, no doubt, had quite a bit to do with the reverence with which Federer is held in SW19 – but Murray, if his mind had not been centred so hard on the greatest challenge of his career, might just have been discouraged by the fan – the male one – who insisted on shouting "I love you, Roger" at critical moments.

There is, of course, not a lot not to love about the champion of champions, the man who seems as much interested in the challenge of defining the game as piling one Grand Slam title on another.

When the wounds have healed, though the deepest sustained here yesterday may always leave a trace, Murray will be able to tell himself that he did all he could, including producing some of the best of his ability, but that maybe it was true what they said.

True that he had been born with a great gift to play tennis, but unfortunately at a time when nature was being particularly generous with its bounty. Most conspicuously, we have to say, in the case of Roger Federer.

Four years on, Federer is suggesting he has made a deal with fate and the passing of the years