NEW YORK, Sept 9 (Reuters) - Andy Murray is on the verge of crowning Britain’s golden summer by ending one of the longest droughts in sport. Only the formidable figure of Novak Djokovic stands in his way of winning Monday’s U.S. Open men’s final.
It has been 76 years since a British man last won a grand slam title, providing a mixture of frustration and embarrassment to the country where modern tennis originated.
Entire generations have come and gone since Fred Perry won his last major at the 1936 U.S. Open when tennis was played with wooden rackets and by men in long trousers.
Tim Henman offered a glimmer of hope that the barren run might end when he made six grand slam semi-finals between 1998 and 2004 before passing the baton to Murray.
A more versatile and more accomplished player, Murray is through to his fifth grand slam final in five seasons, but as the records show, he lost his four previous finals and Britain’s agonising wait continues.
“Winning a major is the last thing that I really want to do. It means a lot to me,” Murray said.
“It’s obviously not easy to lose another slam final, so I hope this one is a different story.”
Only two other players, Kim Clijsters and Murray’s coach Ivan Lendl, have lost their first four grand slam finals since tennis turned professional.
But if history is any guide, the 25-year-old Murray’s luck could be about to change. Lendl won his fifth final and went on to win eight grand slam titles.
Clijsters also made it a fifth time and never lost another final again as she chalked up four major titles before retiring last week.
Doubts about Murray’s mental toughness began to emerge after he lost his first three grand slam finals (the 2008 U.S. Open and the 2010 and 2011 Australian Opens) all in straight sets.
But he took a set off Roger Federer at Wimbledon this year and although he still lost, he emerged as a tougher player, beating Djokovic and Federer in successive matches to win the Olympic gold medal.
“All of those big matches and all of the slams and Olympics and stuff, they all help in the long run,” Murray said.
Murray has hardly put a foot wrong at Flushing Meadows this past fortnight, dropping just three sets on his way to the final, raising expectations that he can finally breakthrough.
A win would cap a glorious summer for Britain, in which cyclist Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France and the host-nation won 29 gold medals at the London Olympics.
But Djokovic is man on his own mission. Like Murray, the 25-year-old Serbian spent years living in the shadow of Federer and Rafa Nadal, but has emerged physically and mentally stronger and determined to seize every opportunity he gets.
He has already five grand slam titles, including last year’s U.S. Open final, and has dropped only one set in getting to Monday’s final.
Djokovic has won the last three grand slams played on hard courts and holds an 8-6 lead over Murray in their head-to-head matches, including last year’s Australian Open final, and is expecting a tough match.
“Most of our matches that we played against each other were very close and only small margins decided the winner,” Djokovic said.
”We are big rivals and we have been in top of the men’s game for a long time, so we know each other really well.
“(Murray won) the last match in the Olympic Games but it’s a different surface, obviously, and with the different surface different tactics apply.”
Djokovic, through to his fourth U.S. Open final and chasing his second win, dismissed the notion that Murray’s previous near-misses gave him extra incentive to succeed in a match which has all the makings of a classic.
“I guess there is no clear favourite,” he said. “He’s going to be very motivated to win the title but me too.” (Editing by Gene Cherry)