On the seventh day of the seventh month of 2013, 77 years after Britain had last seen a homegrown champion at Wimbledon, Andy Murray turned a nation upside down by beating Novak Djokovic in a three-set slugfest.
It hadn’t been since 1936, when Fred Perry hoisted the trophy on Centre Court that the tennis-crazed nation had seen a champion of its own at what tennis considers its greatest tournament.
But Murray changed that on Sunday, playing no-miss, I’ll-run-everything-down tennis against Djokovic, long known to be one of tennis’ fiercest competitors. In the end it was Murray 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 in an effort that seemed one-sided, but was anything but.
“I understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon,” Murray said on court after the win. “So I hope you guys are happy.”
Happy is an understatement. Murray’s win was expected to break TV viewing audience records in the U.K., as his quarterfinal win days before had already done earlier in the week. More than 4,000 fans queued up beginning Friday night to get tickets just to watch the match on the famed Henman Hill, a grassy slope on the grounds of the All England Club that has a big-screen TV on it.
“I have no idea what happened,” Murray said when asked to recall how the match ended. “I can't even remember.”
It will, however, be a memory that is seared in the brains of Britons for years to come. It was a year after Murray famously broke down in tears on court following a loss to Roger Federer after leading by a set.
“It feels slightly different to last year,” Murray joked wryly. “That was one of the toughest moments of my career.”
Twelve months later it was jubilation for Murray, who closed out the match on his fourth match point and turned around on the baseline, his racket falling out of his hands in disbelief. Moments later Murray would drop to his knees on the grass, clutching is head as he climbed into his players’ box to embrace his family and team.
“I don't know how I managed to come through that last game,” Murray laughed. “I'm so unbelievably happy.”
Jubilation might be a more appropriate term for the public that has so longed for this to happen. It was Murray’s fifth straight year making the semifinals at the grass-court tournament and second year in a row in the final. Britain has known heartache for a long while, as Tim Henman, once the toast of the country’s tennis, reached the final weekend four times but was never able to close it out.
The grounds of the All England Club shook on Sunday afternoon, with Centre Court pulsating with football crowd–like eruptions as Murray won, echoed by the thousands on Henman Hill, basked in a rare sunny and hot day in Southwest London.
After the win, Murray made his way through the bowels of Centre Court, weaving through hallways to shake the hands of dignitaries and staff, his dazed face barely able to soak in what was happening. At the end of that walk, he came out the front of the stadium on a terrace, where the biggest crowd in memory throbbed around the arena, aiming for a glance at its new homegrown hero.
Murray raised his arms in triumph. A smile spread across his often sullen face.
“Yes, he had won Olympic gold last year,” said British former tennis player John Lloyd, now a commentator. “But that’s not what he wanted. He wanted this. He’s made history.”
A history, it could be said that will be remembered for 77 years. Or perhaps a few after that, as well.