Andy Murray arrived at Wimbledon yesterday riding on the hopes of a nation. By 7pm, he had the weight of British disappointment on his shoulders. But, as the sun set behind Murray Mound in the early evening, his legions of fans left their hero's patch of grass clinging to the consolation that "there's always next year".
Sue Johnson, 49, from Brighton, said: "He just wasn't good enough to win. That's all you can say, really, but the experience of being in a semi-final will help him for the future. He is only young and has many years ahead."
Ashleigh Palmer, 28, from Wimbledon, added: "It was close. Both were evenly matched and it could have gone either way. Obviously, I'm very disappointed that Murray lost but he will be here again."
And David Thomson, 60, from Harpenden, said: "It was a fantastic match. The score tells you how close it was but, sadly, Roddick was that little bit more clinical. It would have been great for Murray to get to the final but with Nadal not being here perhaps a win would have been tainted. I desperately wanted Murray to win the tournament but if he wins it next year when Nadal is back it will be even more special."
As soon as the match finished, Murray Mound quickly emptied and all that was left was discarded Pimm's cups, cracked plastic pint pots and crumpled newspapers that only a few hours before had held out for the possibility of a British win.
Earlier in the day, hundreds had packed the hillock. Venus and Serena Williams, usually a crowd-pulling spectacle in their own right, had to play second fiddle as their Court One crowd disappeared. The sisters had the misfortune of finding themselves in a doubles semi-final at the same time as Andy Murray was stepping on to Centre Court. And Murray Mound was where those without tickets for the main event, wanted to be.
But, for the first set at least, the hundreds of Murray maniacs gathered on his eponymous mound appeared fazed by the occasion. After an initial cheer to greet their hero on to the court, the atmosphere was strangely subdued during an opening set which was finely balanced until the Scot surrendered the initiative when he was broken and in his final service game.
"It's nerves," said Julie Clarke, who had travelled from Lincoln with her niece to cheer on the 22-year-old from Dunblane. "We are just so desperate to see him win." Although the game was showing on other giant screens on Court Two, the hill continued to fill. Julie, 44, added: "No one wants to leave here. If you can't get tickets for Centre Court then the hill is where you want to be. The atmosphere is fantastic." Glancing at the screen which reminded her Murray was now 2-1 behind in sets she added: "I suppose the only bad thing is the score."
Each winning shot from the Briton was politely applauded and no more until the start of the second set when he broke American Andy Roddick's serve in the first game. Then Murray's roar was matched and bettered by his fans outside centre court. The atmosphere intensified and so did the heat.
Layers of clothing were removed and suntan lotion applied. Those without bottled water joined the ever-growing queue at the bar and quenched their thirst with beer and Pimm's. Murray gave them something to toast when he won the second set 6-4. Julie's niece, 25-year-old Vicki Clarke, added: "I knew he would get himself back into it. I love his aggression."
August Chin, 28, had come to support her American compatriot, but was trying to keep it quiet. "I would rather not let too many people know, I don't want to upset anyone," she said. "But I had to support him. He is a Yank after all and tomorrow is Independence Day. People back home would not forgive me if I turned my back on him now. Perhaps I should have brought my US flag."