As Kristina Mladenovic released her racket from her grasp and clasped her face in disbelief at accomplishing her maiden grand slam, it was a conclusion which befitted a day that had attained a palpable sense of relief and new beginnings on the revered grounds of SW19. The young Frenchwoman, who had pushed Maria Sharapova hard in the first round of the singles, had triumphed in an epic mixed doubles final 8-6 in the deciding set with her partner, Canadian doubles veteran Daniel Nestor.
The young upstart proved her nerve and her immaculate timing throughout the match producing numerous winners down the line and saving match points on her own serve in the dying flickers of light on centre court. Mladenovic demonstrated the potential that could one day see her win the singles title. For the French though, it had only been a solitary day since they’d had a champion of that particular championship. Rewind seven hours and a certain Andrew Murray had 40oC courtside temperature, the expectation of a nation, the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and of course, 77 years of failure to subjugate if he was to win a maiden Wimbledon title. I was lucky enough to be a holder of a ticket for that gentleman’s singles final.
On the street and on the world wide web the tickets were changing hands for up to and including ten thousand pounds such was the recognition of what a male victor would mean for the nation. Admittedly being only in my early twenties I haven’t fully had to witness and accept three quarters of a century of heartache.
Having said that, I did experience Tim Henman. Todd Martin, Michael Stich, Goran Ivanisevic, Lleyton Hewitt and Sebastian Grosjean had all vanquished our national idol at the latter stages of the tournament, sometimes in the most excruciating and heart-breaking of fashions. Also included in this list is a man known as Pete Sampras, a man who Andre Agassi referred to in the following manner in his autobiography: ‘Pete. It’s always Pete’. Andy Murray however, is our generation’s contender.
At just past 2pm the combatants walked out onto what has been dubbed by John McEnroe as ‘The most famous court in the world’. Having been privileged enough to spectate at Wimbledon several times and also seen playoff finals at Wembley, matches at the Giant’s stadium in New York and of course, Varsity, this was quite potentially the loudest noise from a crowd I’d ever heard. This was no doubt aided by the enclosed, intimate nature of centre court, a stark contrast from the previous year when the darling of centre court, Roger Federer, had kept the crowd divided and reserved. Novak Djokovic, as admired as he is around the world would have no such respectful acceptance from the crowd.
As partisan as any home football crowd could be, every point Murray gained was greeted with a rapturous bellow from the 16,000-plus in presence. The almost unbearable heat on the court made no difference to the audience as they leapt from their seats, fist pumped and high fived total strangers consistently for the three hour gladiatorial contest. Witnessing the two best players in the world at the peak of their powers live is a truly awe-inspiring spectacle. Two men separated by a week in birth, by one place in the world rankings and who had childhoods fraught with life-threatening episodes combined with an almost identical rise from the junior ranks to the very elite levels of the sport.
Tennis does not translate particularly well to television, appearing slower and removing the truly three dimensional aspects of it such as net clearances and the variety of spins which make up the heart and soul of the game. Being so close to the action made one appreciate the anguish each player had to undertake to win a solitary point. The term unforced error became a nominal one, the pressure the two best players in the world exerted on each other was such that a standard rally ball didn’t exist. First serves became point starters rather than point winners.
If the 1980 tie-breaker between Borg and McEnroe has been regarded as the tiebreak, the final game of this particular Wimbledon final may well go down (at least in the eyes of British tennis fans) as the game. Leading up to it I had vacated my seat to quench my thirst with the standard beverage of choice at the All England Club, Pimms and happened across Djokovic’s girlfriend Jelena Ristic. At this point with her boyfriend two sets to love down, whilst having her picture taken with some clearly star struck Japanese girls it appeared she’d rather be anywhere else. Within half an hour the entire audience on centre court would join her in that sentiment.
The Pimms I had just purchased would be a useful antidote to the single most torturous game I or any British tennis fans had ever witnessed. With three match-points squandered and two break points saved, each point was becoming monumental; every point Murray won was celebrated like a successful spot kick in a penalty shoot-out. More out of relief than joy.
Then came the most important moment. Break point down Murray hit one of the most aggressive forehands he had produced in the entire match onto Djokovic baseline. This was not the Murray of yesteryear; this was the new mature version, the Lendlfied version. He put away the simple volley reply and one point later reached championship point number four. Big first serve, Djokovic stretched almost helplessly but somehow directed the return onto the baseline. Murray hit an inside-out forehand, Djokovic backhand. Net.
It’s now been three weeks since Britain’s last Wimbledon champion.