It was an astonishing end to an astonishing day. Andy Murray secured his lifetime’s ambition by winning a final game of nerve-shredding drama on Sunday that summed up an unforgettable Wimbledon final, full of stunning tennis and with more plot twists than an Alfred Hitchcock thriller.
Playing some of the best tennis of his life, Murray had put himself on the brink of victory when he served for the title at 5-4 and 40-0 in the third set, only for Novak Djokovic to take the Centre Court crowd to a new pitch of excitement with the sort of comeback that has made him the champion he is.
Having saved three Championship points, the 26-year-old Serb forced three break points of his own before Murray finally closed out his 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 victory when Djokovic (above) put a backhand in the net. “It was the hardest few points I’ve had to play in my life,” Murray said afterwards. “I think just how that last game went, my head was kind of everywhere. Some of the shots he came up with were unbelievable.”
If the denouement was a reflection of how closely matched the world’s No 1 and No 2 players are, the truth was that Murray looked in control of his own destiny from the start. Apart from one dip in the middle of the third set, the 26-year-old Scot played magnificently. He served beautifully, showed why he is one of the best returners in the game, remained focused on his task throughout and, above all, demonstrated what a magnificent athlete he is.
Murray’s pace around the court and sheer willpower to chase down every drop shot and stop volley was stunning. Djokovic is the iron man of modern tennis but, as Murray kept up the pressure, he was forced to go for the lines and to hit with more power in a desperate bid to find a way past his opponent and made uncharacteristic mistakes.
There were some stupendous exchanges – when Djokovic broke in the fourth game of the second set he won a 28-stroke rally and then a 30-stroke rally on successive points – but Murray usually had the better of them.
After a Wimbledon with more than its fair share of bad weather, the sun shone on a glorious afternoon. With the two men turning up the heat on the court, it was so hot that both men were soon using ice towels at the changeovers.
From the very first point, an 18-stroke rally which Murray won when Djokovic put a forehand wide, the crowd sensed they were in for something special. It was the 2011 champion rather than last year’s beaten finalist who appeared the more nervous at the start but, after going 0-40 down in the opening game thanks to three successive errors, Djokovic managed to hold on to his serve.
Murray, who hit two aces in his opening service game, did not have to wait long before drawing blood. At 1-1 the Scot broke serve on his seventh break point of the match with a backhand winner down the line, to huge roars from the crowd, only for Djokovic to break back immediately with some ferociously aggressive hitting. In the seventh game Murray broke again and, after saving three break points at 4-3, he went on to serve out for the set after 59 minutes.
Djokovic, nevertheless, responded magnificently. Upping a gear, the Serb went 4-1 up in the second set, only for Murray to move into the outside lane and overtake him with a stunning passage of play. The Scot won seven of the next eight games, although he had to hang on grimly to his serve when Djokovic had two break points in the eighth game of the second set.
Having taken the set with an ace, Murray poured on the pressure at the start of the third, taking a 2-0 lead, only to stumble just as the finishing line appeared on the horizon. When Djokovic broke twice to go 4-2 up, Murray appeared to be melting in the heat, but this final of constantly changing fortunes took its last turn when Murray made two successive breaks to give himself the chance to serve for the match. He still had to win that remarkable final game, but this was a day when the British player was simply not going to be denied.