NEW YORK (Reuters) - Britain’s long wait is over. The nation that invented modern tennis finally has a champion for the new age after Andy Murray won the U.S. Open on Monday.
The jokes about wooden rackets and men playing tennis in long, white trousers have lost their punchline and Fred Perry, the last British man to win a grand slam single title way back in 1936, can rest in peace.
It has been a long and agonizing wait for Murray too. The 25-year-old Scot, a naturally shy, introverted man, has carried the weight of expectation since the moment he emerged as the potential drought-breaker.
Unfairly branded a ‘choker’ after losing his first four grand slam final appearances, Murray silenced his critics and exorcised his own doubts forever when he beat the defending champion Novak Djokovic in a five-set thriller.
“I have been asked about it many times when I got close to winning grand slams before,” he said.
“I hope now it inspires some kids to play tennis and also takes away the notion that British tennis players choke or don’t win, or it’s not a good sport.”
In 2010, Murray cried when he lost the Australian Open final to Roger Federer and he sobbed again when he lost to the Swiss master at Wimbledon in July.
But on Monday, under the bright lights of New York City’s national tennis center, he shed tears of a joy as the heavy burden was lifted from his shoulders with a rousing 7-6 7-5 2-6 3-6 6-2 victory.
”I was obviously very emotional. I cried a little bit on the court,“ he said. ”You’re not sad, you’re incredibly happy.
”You’re in a little bit of disbelief because when I have been in that position many times before and not won... Is it ever going to happen? Then when it finally does, you’re obviously very, very excited.
“I was mainly relieved to have got over that last hurdle.”
It has been a long and hard road to the top for Murray, who was born in Glasgow and raised in Dunblane.
He was a pupil at Dunblane Primary School and present on the day in 1996 when a gunman shot dead 16 students and a teacher before turning the gun on himself. Murray, eight years old at the time, hid under a desk.
When he was 15, he moved to Barcelona to further his tennis career and in 2008, he made his first grand slam final, at the U.S. Open, losing in straight sets.
He made the Australian Open final in 2010 and again a year later, but the results were the same, triggering doubts in his own mind even though he was an established top player and regular winner of Masters events.
Earlier this year, he hired former world number one Ivan Lendl as his coach and things started to change.
He became the first British man to reach the final at Wimbledon since Bunny Austin in 1938 and although he lost, he at least managed to win a set.
Then a few weeks later, he avenged his loss to Federer when he won the gold medal on the same Wimbledon Centre Court at the London Olympics and arrived at Flushing Meadows with renewed confidence.
”The Olympics was obviously huge for me. It was the biggest week of my life,“ Murray said. ”But still today, before the match when I was sitting in the locker room beforehand, there are still doubts.
“You’re still thinking, ‘If I lose this one, you know, no one’s ever lost their first five finals.’ I just didn’t really want to be that person.”
Suddenly, the future looks brighter than ever for the Briton.
As Federer’s relentless pursuit of grand slams slows with age and Rafa Nadal’s creaking knees continue to trouble him, Murray and Djokovic are rapidly emerging as the sport’s next great rivals.
Perry, who died in 1995 aged 85, won eight grand titles and Murray said he was sure the late Englishman would have been thrilled to see him win.
“I never got the chance to meet him but it would have been nice to have spoken to someone from Britain that had won major tournaments before,” Murray said.
”That definitely would have helped me if I would have got the chance but I used to wear his clothing line when I was growing up.
“I‘m sure he’s smiling from up there that someone has finally managed to do it from Britain and I just hope I can see another British player in my lifetime win a grand slam.”
Editing by John O'Brien