Followers of men’s tennis have been spoiled in the last few years. The Federer and Nadal rivalry took the sport to new heights before Novak Djokovic came along and stole the show from 2011 onwards. Andy Murray quietly battled away, improving his game bit by bit before adding Ivan Lendl to his coaching team, a move which gave him the extra push to look those three in the eyes as their equal. We’ve been treated to incredible finals or semi-finals in practically every major of the last five years, to the extent that we’ve come to expect that level in the latter stages.
But I don’t think there’s ever been a day like Friday. Eight hours and 45 minutes of pure drama, it had everything; a gentle Argentinean giant pushing the World Number 1 to his absolute limit and a hard-hitting virtual unknown playing the role of panto villain attempting to thwart the hometown hero. The level reached by Djokovic and Juan-Martin Del Potro in their five set match-for-the-ages was at times almost literally unbelievable. The first match point that JMDP saved will live with me forever – what courage and confidence in your game. His obvious exasperation with the Serb’s stubbornness means that Wimbledon found a new favourite. But eventually it was Djokovic that came back from the brink when it looked like he had nothing left to give – how many times have we said that in the last three years? At four hours and 43 minutes, the longest men’s semi-final in Wimbledon’s long history. And the organisers had deemed that the starter!
Surely the world’s second best player Andy Murray would have no problem seeing off the unheralded Jerzy Janowicz in the main course. The first problem was when the 6ft8inch Pole pulverised the man from Dunblane in a devastating first set tiebreak. Cue audible gasps from the reserved Centre Court crowd. Things got better for the Brit when he took the second set but Janowicz broke early in the third set. This is when the crowd woke up and, inspired by their support, Murray played wonderfully to go into a two sets to one lead. No problems now.
Except what Wimbledon does best is attempt to screw their own players. They are so afraid to be seen to give home-town advantage that they go the opposite way. It was at this juncture (after Murray had won the last five games) that they decided to close the roof, despite there being tons of bright sunshine, despite it being an outdoor summer event. I think this was the first time the BBC haven’t endlessly fawned over that bloody roof. Murray was furious (maybe his gran is a big EastEnders fan and this controversial decision was further delaying the start of the dour drama). But he channelled his anger and he used the crowd to motivate, to cajole, to rouse himself. In short, he did everything he could and should do in order to take advantage of it being his home Slam. He reached his second consecutive Wimbledon final, but no thanks to the referee’s office. Poor Tim Henman was having flashbacks to 2001 – he did really well not to have a very public breakdown in the commentary box! All in all, possibly the best day’s tennis in 20 years!
A word on the winners: Marion Bartoli is a deserving champion. Her belief in her game has never wavered – she may not have so many modelling contracts, because she ain’t “a looker”, isn’t that right John Inverdale? But as she herself said, she has never dreamed of getting modelling contracts but she has absolutely always dreamed of winning Wimbledon. Double-handed off both sides, you never forget watching her play. She handled the big occasion better than the new Wimbledon darling Sabine Lisicki, who will also be better for her fortnight in SW19. But Bartoli did not lose a set in London. Her style and character may not be to everybody’s liking but she deserves her new place in tennis history.
Andy Murray is now a multiple Slam winner. He currently holds more glitter than any other man in the game. He is the reigning Olympic champion, reigning US Open champion and became the first British player since Virginia Wade 36 years ago to win our home Grand Slam. He played sublimely in the first week but I felt that he looked flat in both his quarter-final and semi-final victories. But he did what Federer and Nadal could not do; he got through on his tough days. And in the final he blew Novak Djokovic away. The comeback king had no answer to Murray’s game. Murray made more winners, made less unforced errors and served better under pressure. Lendl has had the exact effect Murray will have hoped for when they first talked about linking up. There’s a new top two in tennis, and Murray is one of them.