THE wait is over. Seventy-six years after Fred Perry became the last British man to win a Grand Slam singles title with his victory just down the road from here at Forest Hills, Andy Murray achieved his lifetime's ambition at Flushing Meadows last night when he won the US Open. Just like his coach, Ivan Lendl, the 25-year-old Scot put his past disappointments behind him to win a Grand Slam final at the fifth attempt, beating Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 after a match of the highest drama that lasted four hours and 54 minutes.
There could not be a more deserving champion. Murray has worked tirelessly to reach his goal in an era dominated by two of the greatest players in history in the shape of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and, in more recent times, by a man who may also eventually be regarded as one of the sport's legends. The fact that Djokovic had won four of the previous seven Grand Slam tournaments, including the last three played on hard courts, underlined the magnitude of Murray's achievement.
The Serb had also won both his previous Grand Slam matches against Murray, his friend and rival ever since they first met at an under-12s tournament, and threatened to make an outrageous comeback when he fought back from two sets down, but for the most part it was Murray who dealt better with the difficult conditions as a gusting wind swirled around the cavernous 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe stadium.
Ever since he lost the Wimbledon final two months ago, there has been an irresistible sense of purpose about the man from Dunblane. Murray won gold at the Olympics with a controlled aggression that had sometimes been lacking in his game in the past and has been brimming with confidence ever since.
In becoming the first British man to reach a Wimbledon singles final for 74 years, the first to win a tennis gold medal for 104 years and now the first to win a Grand Slam singles title in 288 tournaments, Murray has defied the weight of history which has helped to crush the ambitions of so many of his fellow countrymen in the past.
Although the conditions were not as extreme as they had been during Murray's semi-final victory over Tomas Berdych, when the wind even blew the players' chairs on to the court, both men had to adjust their games. They were frequently forced to delay or abort their serves and both used more slice than normal. Playing into the wind from one end must have felt like facing two opponents. Both made many more unforced errors than winners, but given the conditions the word "unforced" was barely appropriate.
After a fortnight of uncomfortably hot and humid weather, it felt almost autumnal as the players entered the stadium in bright sunshine. Lendl, in a bright red sweatshirt, came prepared, while Sir Sean Connery, Murray's fellow Scot, wore a jacket, sunglasses and straw hat.
Among the other celebrities present were the actors Kevin Spacey, who had enjoyed a hit with Lendl during Murray's practice session earlier in the day, and Patrick Stewart. Donald Trump appeared to be sitting steadfastly still in the hope that the wind would not catch his hair, while Sir Alex Ferguson joined Murray's entourage halfway through the first set, glancing at his watch and looking around as if searching for a referee to complain about time-keeping.
Both players - but Djokovic in particular - took time to adjust to the conditions. With both playing cautiously, there were some exceptionally long rallies, including one of 55 shots in the sixth game. Djokovic lost the first seven points on his own serve and Murray the first three on his as both men were broken in their opening service games. At 2-2 Djokovic, having saved four break points two games earlier, was broken for a second time after serving two double faults. At the changeover the Serb smacked his racket into his chair in anger.
With Murray leading 4-3, however, Djokovic broke back and the set went to a tie-break. Djokovic led 5-3, but Murray dominated thereafter. After Djokovic had saved four set points, the last of them after a 33-stroke rally, Murray decided it was time to up the ante by going for his shots. At 10-10 Djokovic sent a backhand long under attack from the Scot, who finally took the set after 87 minutes when the defending champion was unable to return serve.
In all but the very first of the 14 previous meetings between these two men, the player who won the first set had gone on to win the match. Judging by his play at the start of the second set, it was as if Djokovic was all too aware of that statistic as Murray raced into a 4-0 lead. However, Djokovic broke both in the next game and again two games later, the Scot ballooning a forehand long on break point as a gust of wind took control of the ball.
Nevertheless, the new world No 3 regrouped and when Djokovic served at 5-6 and 15-30 the Serb put a smash wide. On the first break point Murray put a return of serve into the net, but on the second Djokovic hit a forehand into the tramlines.
It had been 63 years since Pancho Gonzales became the last man to win this title from two sets down, but Djokovic has an excellent five-set record and the Serb responded magnificently to the challenge. As Murray's level dipped, Djokovic began to play with more fire. Attacking the Scot's serve at every opportunity, he took the third set in just 46 minutes.
Djokovic again made the early break in the fourth, but now it was Murray's turn to respond as the two men threw everything they could at each other. One 30-shot exchange ended with Djokovic sprawled on the floor and the crowd on their feet as Murray thumped a forehand winner. However when the Scot served at 3-5, a double fault and three successive errors saw Djokovic level the match.
Murray landed the first blows in the final set shoot-out, breaking twice to lead 3-0, only for Djokovic to bring the score back to 3-2. Murray broke again to lead 5-2, after which Djokovic, to boos from the crowd, took a medical time-out to have his legs massaged. The Scot, however, was not to be denied and served out for victory, converting his second championship point when Djokovic hit a return long. Rarely can a maiden Grand Slam triumph have been as richly deserved or as hard-earned.
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