Stop all the clocks. This was Andy Murray’s Auden moment, 25 minutes after five, July 7, 2013; the time and date when Murray showed Fred Perry’s ghost the door on Centre Court. Sunny afternoons in high summer are not normally fertile ground for exorcisms, but then this was no ordinary day in British tennis, no ordinary hour in the life of the 26-year-old Scot.
No more will Britons have to suffer the endless gaze through an empty past to an era when Spain was at war with itself, the BBC first fired up a cathode ray tube and Gone With The Wind would have been your book club novel of the day. No more will Murray have to ask himself where he went wrong, or what he must do to get across the line at this great championship. It’s Goodbye 1936. Hello Murraytime.
An open-top bus through London anyone? Knighthood? Why not? He is more deserving than most. In the fields of human endeavour how many are asked to do their stuff under the kind of intense scrutiny endured by sportsmen at this level? Thousands in the arena, millions watching worldwide and the remainder hooked up to some kind of device, all focused on the fortunes on two men. Sure they are well rewarded, and in essence the pursuit of victory is trivial. No lives are lost or saved. Nevertheless the participants are immersed in the kind of white-hot ordeal the majority in our mundane lives will never know, and one that stretches the limits of endurance.
The straight-sets score will never tell the story of that final service game, when Murray’s whole life seemed to pass before him. He described it as the toughest of his career, imagined that he would never have to dig so deep again to hold a service game from 40-love, confessed he did not know where he was when Novak Djokovic put his final backhand into the net.
It was a sentiment shared on the hill, where the common folk gathered. There was not a blade of grass spare, as the swathe of slow-cooked humanity turned redder by the minute in the cause of their boy. There has to be some pain for the kind of gain that was on offer this day. “Move along, move along,” urged the stewards at the top of the steps. It was an appeal destined to fail. None was about to let this moment pass.
In the royal box Wayne Rooney spent the afternoon in a tie. That’s deference for you. Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper likewise. The Prime Minister, David Cameron jostled for camera position with the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband. In the commentary box, arguably the best placed in global sport, positioned in a privileged spot at the back of the court, Boris Becker talked gibberish. “Hollywood’s in the house,” he screamed when Butler and Cooper filled our screens. No, Boris, Hollywood was on the court before you. Open your eyes, man.
As we saw with the British & Irish Lions in Sydney, the big sporting carnival flushes out the seer in all of us. The world and his dog had a view about this contest and, more than that, demanded it be heard. It was, therefore, a blessing when the whistle finally blew, and none saw a three-set win for either player. By 2pm, the only hot air of significance enveloped Centre Court, where temperatures hit 40C. This was tennis in a furnace.
Murray’s coming of age at the Olympics and the US Open last year was evident in his refusal to defer to Djokovic at any point in this encounter. The passive demeanour that characterised meetings with the big names in his early years is no longer a feature of his game. The tennis produced to haul back Djokovic from 1-4 to take that second set was proof that Murray’s man years are upon him. He believes he belongs in the same company as the world No 1. We have seen Murray flex his biceps on Centre Court before to convey his credentials as a genuine contender, but this was utterly different. The muscle imposing itself on this contest was mental.
Murray did not get a bye yesterday, he did not profit because results elsewhere went his way. He beat the world No 1, a player with six Grand Slam titles to his name, who might yet go down as an all-time great and who was flying at a formidable peak in this tournament. He beat the best on his terms. You cannot ask for more in any game.
Murray was required to both summon and control the primal drives that fry the synapses under pressure. It was a monumental achievement to push and pull all over the court this fellow Djokovic, a player whose game is built around unprecedented elasticity in the recovery of lost causes. Murray went even further in the pursuit of his first Wimbledon triumph than Djokovic was able to go. That’s why he was the one holding the greatest pot in tennis at the end.
At the last count there were 115 proposals of marriage on the hill. Goodness knows how many conceptions over at the south-eastern end of Centre Court, those who had watched the drama on court No 3 flooded the concourse beneath the balcony in anticipation of a Murray wave. He obliged, of course, an emotional tsunami washing over the nation.