When the torrent of books about this bedazzling sporting summer begins to flow, few will spare so much as a footnote for the heavyweight grudge match at Upton Park on July 14. More luminous achievements than David Haye’s knockout of Dereck Chisora were buried in obscurity beneath the avalanche of glory. Take Rory McIlroy’s facile romp to the US PGA title hours after the Olympics closing ceremony – a rapacious headline-grabber in any other year, but ignored amid all the melodrama much like Jeffrey Bernard’s foolishly timed death on the same day as Princess Diana’s.
Yet for this writer, the Upton Park mash-up sits atop the memorial pantheon beside Wiggo’s Tour de France, Mo’s double gold and the dénouement in the early hours of yesterday to five relaxing hours of tennis in New York. One hates to muscle in on another’s triumph on arguably tenuous grounds. But it was there in east London, that sodden Saturday night, that I informed Andy Murray, sitting ringside beneath a Cellophane sheet, of the overwhelming feeling in my bones that he would win the 2012 US Open.
Although (off-court) the sweetest and most courteous of young men – “Hi, I’m Andy,” he helpfully introduced himself, with the sickly fixed smile of the stalkee cornered by a star-struck sea monster – he didn’t seem wildly impressed with the prediction; and even less so with the ensuing advice about how to destroy a seemingly indestructible Serb. Had he not hurriedly turned his back, he might have explained that taking the advice would induce the novel umpirical announcement: “Code violation, Tasering Mr Djokovic, warning Mr Murray.”
Yet who can say for certain that the memory of howsoever deranged a megafan’s faith in him didn’t make the difference as he entered the fifth set? Grinner Lendl, mother Judy and others in the entourage also take some credit for bolstering his self-belief. But publishers wishing to bid for a memoir, on the lines of Spike Milligan’s Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall, may contact me via this newspaper.
In the event, Murray didn’t deploy the Taser, though you might not have guessed from the cramping, wobbly-legged Novak Djokovic of the closing games. How the spent-looking Scot found the mental strength, after having his two-set lead torn from him by the most ferociously resilient figure in sport, I will never understand. Nor will he. If the closely contested Grand Slam final has no equal for sustained, excruciating stress, no tennis player can ever have endured the pressure Murray must have felt as he came out for that final set, knowing he would never recover from the disappointment and resulting sense of accursedness if he lost it.
I cannot honestly describe watching this match as an unmitigated delight for the co-occupant of the sofa and myself. This friend and I have followed Murray obsessively for seven years, barely missing a televised match since he emerged at 18 as a potential talent for the ages. When he beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to reach this year’s Wimbledon final, I sobbed down the phone at my friend: “God, I love that boy. I’ve watched him grow up, he’s like a son to me.” A delicate cough announced the presence of a startled biological son. Despite being reassured that, having had him for 15 years and Andy for only seven, he is my firstborn, he hasn’t forgiven me yet, and never will. But what’s a chap to do in the face of overwhelming quasi-paternal pride?
There is nothing you wouldn’t do for your pseudo-kids, of course, and as the momentum shifted to Djokovic in the third set, our “What would you give for the US Open now?” debate took in first a limb, then a kidney, and eventually one of each with a house thrown in. Late in the fourth, the match apparently lost, the bargaining took a turn to include the passive end of a coupling with Eric Pickles. “Are you telling me you’d do that for the title?” I asked my friend. “I’d do that,” came the reply, “for a break point.”
The Communities Secretary was no more needed, to the relief of all parties, than the Taser. In a manner that just a few months ago would have seemed like a treasonous denial of national sporting character, the boy – our boy – did what great champions do. As he stared into the abyss, instead of developing vertigo he soared above his previous limitations and decisively raised his game.
And with that, on a note of indecent perfection, endeth the Summer of Sport. Murray should now win several more majors, as Mo will win more medals and Wiggo more Tours, but the confluence of outlandish heroism under an incalculable weight of a ravenous country’s expectations will never be repeated.
So the time comes for the dreamy, floaty bubble of delirium to be popped – and if the England football team failed to drag us down to terra firma with a performance of classically monumental mediocrity last night, a lonely nation will turn its eyes to McIlroy and the Ryder Cup team in the hope of a crushing defeat in America later this month. We’re all cried out, quite frankly, and the nerves will stand no more.