A test failed, but time is on Murray's side

The craving for a home triumph goes on, but the brave, young Scot has shown he has the presence and power to win here – one day
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The Independent Online

Give the kid a break. After all, if this tournament has taught us anything, it is that Andy Murray has plenty of time on his side.

We have seen veterans like Lleyton Hewitt and Tommy Haas advance into the suppurating heat with the medals glinting on their chests; we have seen a delightful, late bloom in that Russian poppy, Elena Dementieva. Even the man who postponed Murray's Wimbledon consummation here yesterday, Andy Roddick, had been made to wait six years since proving his own Grand Slam calibre in the US Open. Murray has only just turned 22.

Tomorrow's final, between Roddick and Roger Federer, itself has a vintage resonance. Never mind Tim Henman, who must feel tempted to sidle back out of the commentary box and have another crack. At this rate Roger Taylor himself must wonder if he might try to end the British drought next year, when he will be 68.

Remember how gawky and awkward Murray seemed when, not so long ago, he first ambled on to the scene? Only last year, in fact, he was given a brutal lesson in the physicality of his vocation by Rafael Nadal. If he faltered last night, none should underestimate the giant strides he has made in the meantime.

Here he was in the most febrile crucible of his career to date, up against one of the most experienced grass court masters of the modern era. And the manner of his failure did little to dissipate the sense of destiny that had brought him this far. Last year, he had spooled the fabric; this time round, he has begun to weave a coherent pattern. He will get in the odd tangle. But consider how the boy who lost the first set yesterday, on its only break point, began the second as a man – breaking to love and then detonating three consecutive aces.

For now, however, the craving for another British champion must remain unrequited. The crowd gnawed restively at their hero's nerves. Could he stem the merciless Roddick serve, as consistent as it was ferocious? And what of that other, more tender reciprocation? The one that will some day sprinkle all that passion, so far vested in his service return, far beyond the baseline?

But then it is not just Murray that has had some growing up to do. And nor was it just the French umpire, who mystified him with a reprimand for an audible obscenity, who is slowly beginning to comprehend what is evolving here. Murray does not seek the glib adoration of those who secretly hanker for the days of Henman, the most glorious of their losers. He is in the business of trying to win tennis matches – no more or less than Henman ever was – and that is where they can make their connection. Any patriot should know that Britain means different things to different people, varying with geography and demography. As he made his forlorn retreat last night, Murray should be consoled by the knowledge that his career will broaden the nation's sense of itself. What, after all, did the tragic town of Dunblane mean to Middle England before the redemptive emergence of this dry, laconic young man who finds all his eloquence with a racket in his hand?

Murray is not the type to find comfort in the gallantry of his demise. To beat him, Roddick had to play his most impeccable, most imaginative tennis. Twitching his shirt, chewing his nails, he achieved a perfect tension between brute power and his most introspective flourishes, improvising drop shots, always trying to stifle his opponent.

For Murray has far more presence about him these days, and showed again that he will leave his lungs on the lawn before he admits defeat. Federer, who had finally extinguished Haas in the other semi-final, has always strolled about this court like some character devised by F Scott Fitzgerald, all ease and languor. But Murray follows the script recommended by Richard and Judy.

Richard Williams, that is, the father of those sassy interlopers, Venus and Serena, who today continue to redefine a lilywhite ladies' game with their own urban genius; and Judy Murray, another parent who would never raise a lily-livered child.

Her son's defeat does not make him another jolly good loser. He might not bear himself like a cavalry officer but he has empire-building stuff in him. The fact that both these men shared the same Christian name obliged the crowd to be specific. "Come on, Murray!" they yelled. By the time Murray is finished with Wimbledon, many years hence, it will be quite obvious that they could not have been summoning the butler.