So Roger Federer is the first Swiss man to win a Wimbledon singles title since 2009. That is not the statistic most of us hoped to be bandying about today, but Federer's four-set victory over Andy Murray at least means that we can stop wondering how we might celebrate a first British men's singles champion since the year in which Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland starred in another story of glorious British failure in the face of thunderous opposition volleys, The Charge of the Light Brigade.
That, as someone has told someone else every 0.5 seconds since Murray prevailed in Friday's semi-final, was 1936, the year that has supplanted 1966 as the starting-point for decades of sporting hurt. Tennis is the new football, except that Murray was the lone repository for a nation's hopes, without 10 team-mates to share the burden. Besides, one shouldn't really invoke the 1966 World Cup in the case of a lad from Dunblane.
Whatever, the long wait goes on. Murray started like a train – the Flying Scotsman, of course – and for much of the first set and some of the second it seemed as if he might consign all the Fred Perry references to history. But gradually, irrevocably, Federer asserted his familiar majesty. Perry remains the last British man to win Wimbledon and Murray, at least for the moment, is denied the open-top bus ride through Trafalgar Square and along Sauchiehall Street.
What would it have meant to Britain if he had won? "Feelgood factor" is a nebulous concept but we do know that when the home nations prosper in international football tournaments, life back home seems a little brighter. Similarly, when England's cricketers won the 2005 Ashes, the joy infected even those who didn't know their square legs from their elbows.
Sport has that effect, and while tennis is different insofar as it is fiercely individual, we still celebrate our compatriots' wins as if they were our own. It is hard to remember now, but Virginia Wade, with her suspiciously South African vowels, was considered not quite one of us until she won Wimbledon in the Silver Jubilee summer of 1977. Had Murray lifted the trophy in the summer of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, even those English bulldogs who have never really forgiven him for his harmless quip about supporting "anyone but England" at football, might have joined in the party.
What, instead, does it mean to Britain that he lost? After Murray's weepy runners-up speech, commentator Andrew Castle quoted Rudyard Kipling, and maybe that is what we are left with. Tears and Kipling. And stats. We're great at those, too. But one has been buried for ever. Bunny Austin, in 1938, is no longer the last British man to lose in a Wimbledon singles final. Three cheers for that, at least.Reuse content