“Just take that ball and ride it baby,” said Boris Becker in the commentary booth at Flushing Meadows. The man too good not to win a major, Andy Murray, was leading 7-6, 4-0. The excitement turned Becker’s head and brought a finish line into view that had eluded Murray four times already.
Murray was comfortably ahead but each point had to be torn from Novak Djokovic’s grasp. The US Open’s defending champion would make the Scot fight for four hours and 54 minutes of brutal hitting that left both limping.
The Scot began well in the windy conditions, a recently beaten Wimbledon finalist but now an Olympic champion after gaining revenge at SW19 over Roger Federer. The huge outpouring of emotion for Murray as he took gold had seemed to render him calmer on court in the US while Djokovic smashed a racket as he fought gusts that threw his game out of whack in the opener. A 54-shot rally, the longest at the tournament, was the highlight before the match caught fire in the tie-break.
Murray needed six set points, a winner that made Sean Connery get out of his seat, and all of his lung-busting retrieval skills to clinch the tie-break 12-10. There were unforced errors on both sides of the net but Murray took the role of aggressor after surrendering the mini-break early on. He pinned Djokovic behind the baseline with the greater depth of shot and finally cracked the Serb after 87 minutes.
Greg Rusedski, courtside, said it was “the best tie-break I have ever seen” while Mark Petchey was stunned. “It is unthinkable we will have to watch another five sets of this.” Unlucky, Mark.
Murray stayed aggressive. The chuntering was at a minimum and the leg clutching had not yet begun. The first of these inevitably came after surrendering a double break for 5-5 in the second, with Djokovic finally finding his rhythm. The first sign of weakness in Murray showed showed and it all seemed painfully familiar. But he shrugged off the tentative lapse and held serve, crucially winning a 30-shot rally after trailing 0-15. He would assert himself once more, after Djokovic crumbled with a missed smash, to take a two-set lead. Unfamiliar territory and the drama was only just beginning.
We were watching the ultimate grind artist after all, though, and it was never going to be that easy. Djokovic had been given licence to swing and had snapped up the third 6-2.
The cat-and-mouse game continued with Djokovic now the dominant force. A break for the Serb straight away saw Murray’s head drop further, his limp more exaggerated and anguish painfully evident. But the whiplash-inducing ebb and flow continued with a break back from Murray only to be shattered again by Djokovic. They were going the distance.
Djokovic looked drained after the monumental effort that dragged him level. Murray pounced, with a net cord gifting him an early break. The quality rose once more, with neither man now prepared to trade on the counter-attack. Murray found his depth and began to dismantle the Serb. A vital hold to love at 4-2 saved energy to snatch another break for 5-2. Djokovic took a medical timeout and had Murray bouncing at the back of the court, waiting to end the curse of ‘supposed to’.
He settled down with a rally against the back wall. A handful of serves, one ripped return out the back of the court and it was done, 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2. The kid from Dunblane had ended Britain’s 76-year wait for a male major champion.