Magical Murray ends long wait for home winner
World No 3 in champion form to become first British victor here since 1938
Monday 15 June 2009
It has taken 71 years but the name of Henry Wilfred "Bunny" Austin can finally be consigned to the history books. Austin was the last British player to win the annual grass-court tournament here until Andy Murray beat James Blake 7-5, 6-4 in yesterday's final after a week in which he said he had played "some of the best tennis of my life". Now comes the greatest challenge of the 22-year-old Scot's career and the chance to emulate the achievement of an even more celebrated fellow countryman. It is 73 years since Fred Perry, the greatest British tennis player in history, became the last from these shores to win the Wimbledon men's singles title.
Murray will be as aware as anyone that there would be no better way of celebrating the 100th anniversary of Perry's birth than by winning the greatest prize in tennis. The bookmakers have already installed him as second favourite behind Roger Federer, the fives-time champion, and ahead of Rafael Nadal, the title holder.
The omens could not be better. The Queen's Club event, which became the Aegon Championships with this year's change of sponsor, is the most reliable of form guides for Wimbledon. Only 12 months ago Nadal, who was also 22, went on to win at the All England Club after claiming the first grass-court title of his career here. If Murray looked the Wimbledon part in his white outfit (although his kit sponsors will today reveal a new look for their man at the All England Club) then so did his game.
Murray's best previous effort at Queen's had been a run to the quarter-finals last year, when he pulled out with a thumb injury, but for the last week he has looked all but unbeatable. He won the title without dropping a set, had his serve broken only twice all week and spent a total of less than six hours on court. Yesterday's match was over inside an hour and seven minutes, four minutes shorter than Murray's longest match of the week.
It was the 12th title of his career, taking him past the total of Tim Henman, who never won a grass-court tournament, and his fourth of 2009 following his victories at Doha, Rotterdam and Miami. His winning cheque for nearly £76,000 took his tournament earnings for this year to nearly £1.3m.
The victory, his first in front of a home crowd, will not materially affect his world ranking, but in terms of the boost to his confidence the significance could be huge.
Although he had come here as the world No 3 – the highest ranked British man ever – after a year of outstanding success, Murray had never previously gone beyond the semi-finals of a grass-court event. If his run to the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year had confirmed that he can play well on the surface, he still had something to prove.
Murray lived up to his No 1 seeding from the moment he stepped on to the court for his first match. Until yesterday's final, when he occasionally looked tense and tight, the Scot had shown no signs of nerves, while his grass-court game has looked in magnificent shape.
He has served superbly, looked more assured in his movement on grass than ever before and struck the ball with supreme confidence. Is there a better backhand in tennis? Whether he is thundering the ball two-handed across the net or hitting one-handed slices that skid and turn on hitting the turf, the Murray backhand has become one of the most potent weapons in the game.
Blake, the world No 16, was playing in his second final here, having lost to Lleyton Hewitt three years ago. The 29-year-old American has a moderate record at Wimbledon but has a fair game for grass, with a thumping forehand to back up a big serve. The match was often tight, but Murray, as he does so often, played the big points superbly, upping his game at all the crucial moments. The Scot had just three break points in the match and converted them all. If he did not quite reach the heights he had scaled in beating Mardy Fish and Juan Carlos Ferrero in his two previous matches, that was probably down to Blake's big hitting and maybe a touch of his own nerves.
Murray broke in the third game, courtesy of a short sliced backhand to Blake's forehand, which had been one of his most productive shots all week, but immediately played a loose service game to allow the American to draw level. At 5-5 it was Blake's turn to get sloppy on his serve, but this time Murray made no mistake in the following game. The only break in the second set came in the seventh game. Blake put a volley in the net at 30-30 after a thunderbolt cross-court backhand from Murray, who then converted his break point with an equally powerful backhand return of serve. Murray served out to love at 5-4 thanks to two aces and a service winner.
Having shaken hands with Blake and the umpire, Murray ran across to celebrate with his entourage. There were handshakes with his coach, his fitness team and his girlfriend, with a kiss reserved for his mother, Judy.
Roger Draper, the chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, once said that the crowd at Queen's was "full of City boys and posh totty". There are times when the tennis can seem incidental to their day's enjoyment and although the final was played in front of a full house the crowd lacked the passion of a Wimbledon audience. Their applause for Murray was warm, but there were times when Blake appeared to have greater support.
It is hard to believe there is not another country in the world that would not have given a home winner a more ecstatic reception. You sense that the public here would have shown greater acclaim had the winner been Henman (who lost three finals at Queen's) rather than Murray. For all his achievements and the supreme quality of his play, the Scot has yet to conquer Middle England in the way that his predecessor as the country's tennis flag-bearer did. It may just take a Wimbledon title to do that.
The boy of '38: Can Murray follow in Austin's footsteps?
*Henry Wilfred "Bunny" Austin was the last male British player to win the Queen's Tournament before Andy Murray, winning the competition in 1938. Austin went on to reach the final of Wimbledon the same year.
*That 1938 appearance was also the last time a British man reached the final at Wimbledon. Austin was beaten in straight sets by the American Don Budge. Austin had also been runner-up in 1932.
*Along with Fred Perry, he was part of the British team that won the Davis Cup four times consecutively from 1933-36.
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