"This tournament's always tough," a tearful Andy Murray said, tears beginning to flow freely, only moments after losing the Wimbledon final yesterday to Roger Federer. It was the start of a gracious and surprisingly open-hearted tribute to his opponent, which, if nothing else, did for the legend of the dour, unsmiling Scot.
It was as if we had to wait for his defeat to be finally allowed a glimpse into Murray's heart, and his display of emotional candour soothed at least some of the pain still coursing through a Centre Court crowd packed with Murray supporters, many of whom had obviously been hoping against hope right up to the end that he could turn things round. Of course the odds had always been stacked against his beating the player widely regarded as the greatest in tennis history, and amid the heartbreak home tennis fans must feel at this outcome, there is room surely for an acknowledgment of Federer's supreme grace and brilliance.
There was a sense in which, if Murray had to lose, at least it would be to a player held in universal affection and admiration. Indeed, it was striking how much support Federer commanded among the crowd.
So there was no disgrace in defeat, and no talk of "bottling" or of "failure" on Murray's part should be countenanced. He was outstanding throughout the tournament, a credit to his country, and provided many moments to savour. Now that it's all over, and the thumb-sucking begins, the hunt will resume for some wider explanation as to why-oh-why no Briton has won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. For all that Murray has flown the flag for British tennis, and before him Tim Henman, it remains a sport in which we lack strength in depth. The Lawn Tennis Association's riches have long provided an opportunity to spread tennis beyond its traditional constituency but a breakthrough remains stubbornly out of reach.
Murray, like Henman before him, is not a product of the LTA system, but maybe – just maybe – the huge impact he has made this year will translate into future success for the next generation. We should think of Murray in terms of achievement, not disappointment.