As an emotional Andy Murray fought back the tears after his defeat to Roger Federer in the men's singles final here yesterday, he might have recalled the words he found in similar circumstances after the Australian Open final two years ago. "I can cry like Roger," Murray had told the crowd in his post-match interview in Melbourne. "It's just a shame I can't play like him."
There was certainly no shame in losing 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to the greatest player who has ever wielded a tennis racket, but for Murray this defeat was clearly the hardest of all his four losses in Grand Slam finals to take. Although the 25-year-old Scot contributed hugely to a final of the highest quality, he was ultimately outplayed as the 30-year-old Federer joined William Renshaw and Pete Sampras as the only men who have won the All England Club title seven times.
Britain had waited 74 years for a home player to make it to the final of the men's singles here. When Murray took the first set – the first he had won in a Grand Slam final after three straight-sets defeats – and had the edge for much of the second, it seemed that he might just be on course to become the first British champion since Fred Perry in 1936.
Federer, however, responded magnificently and played especially well after the roof was closed because of rain early in the third set. In claiming his first Grand Slam title for two and a half years, he also took back the world No 1 ranking and became the first thirtysomething to win a Grand Slam title for nine years.
At the end the emotion was too much for Murray. In an on-court interview the only words he could manage at first were: "Getting closer". Fighting in vain to hold back the tears, Murray took the microphone and said: "I'm going to try this and it's not going to be easy."
Having again taken time to compose himself, Murray said: "I was getting asked the other day after I'd won my semi-final whether this was my best chance. Roger's 30 now – and he's not a bad 30-year-old. He played a great tournament. I know he had some struggles with his back early on, but he showed what fight he has left in him. So congratulations. You deserve it."
Murray's mother, Judy, and his girlfriend, Kim Sears, were also in tears as the Scot thanked his team and the crowd before going over to Federer, who put his arm around him. Murray apologised, saying he had not wanted to draw attention to himself and away from the Swiss. "He laughed," Murray said later. "He said: 'This is meant to be the easy part, doing the speeches afterwards, but sometimes it feels quite hard compared with playing a tennis match'."
Asked later about how emotional he had been on court, Murray said: "I guess I'd probably be playing the wrong sport if I wasn't emotional. I thought I played a pretty good match. A lot of close shots, a lot of close games, a lot of break points here and there. He played very, very well, the last two sets especially. When the roof closed he played unbelievable tennis."
The Wimbledon public has not always got behind Murray in the way they used to support Tim Henman, but the support for the world No 4 could hardly have been better. From the moment he walked on court the home crowd cheered him to the rafters.
"It makes such a difference when you're on the court and you have the support behind you and know that all of the people in there are wishing you well and wanting you to win," Murray said. "It's been amazing. They're certainly not the ones that make it hard to play here. They make it much, much easier. When you have a crowd like that behind you, it's a lot easier to play. Yes, thanks for the dedication. I'm sorry I couldn't do it for them."
The crowd had been swelled by royalty, politicians, major sporting figures and celebrities alike. The Queen, who has visited the All England Club only once since Virginia Wade was the last Briton of either sex to win the singles title here in 1977, was not present, but there was a large contingent of royals in the box, including the Duchess of Cambridge, accompanied by her sister, Pippa Middleton.
David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Boris Johnson and Alex Salmond were also there, along with Sir Steve Redgrave, David and Victoria Beckham and former Wimbledon champions in Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Stan Smith, Manuel Santana, Jan Kodes, Ashley Cooper and Neale Fraser.
The home contingent at least had come in the hope of watching Murray join the list of great names who have won here, but in the end they could only salute what has been a remarkable comeback by Federer, who is the first man to have played in eight Wimbledon finals and extended his own tally of Grand Slam singles titles to 17. He lost the world No 1 spot more than two years ago, but in seven days' time he will break Sampras's record of 286 weeks at the top of the rankings.
Murray said: "He's still playing amazing tennis. A lot of people have been asking me: 'Has he started slipping? Is he not playing as well?' If you look at the matches he lost in the last couple of years, they were very, very close matches, matches he definitely could have won. He could be sitting on 20 Grand Slams but for one point or a couple of inches here or there. He's still playing great tennis. I don't think you get to No 1 unless you deserve it."
Federer said: "I know how big the occasion was for Andy and myself. I'm happy I got a victory today, but obviously it was very, very special."
Murray said he had felt more comfortable going into the match than he had in his three previous Grand Slam finals. "I'd say that's the best I've played in a Slam final," he said. "I created chances. I went up a set. It was a long match. Even the last two sets, I still had chances."
He added: "It wasn't like I gave away bad games or stupid games. I played a good match. I made pretty good decisions for the most part, so I'm happy with that."