WIMBLEDON, England — Regarded as a highly gifted but combustible junior player, Scotland’s Andy Murray has gained control of the petulance and self-loathing that tended to undermine his performance when important points went awry.
But questions remained entering Sunday’s Wimbledon final: Would Murray’s talent and newfound composure be enough to finally deliver a Grand Slam title after three failed attempts?
Or would the hard-working Murray, 25, forever be relegated to fourth best in this glorious era of men’s tennis, in which Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have conspired to win 28 of the last 29 major titles?
Still, Murray took a step forward in defeat, solidly outplaying Federer in the opening set and nearly taking a two-sets-to-none lead that would have posed a massive hurdle for the Swiss.
In the end, the match wasn’t settled by any implosion on Murray’s part, nor by any paralysis in the face of withering pressure from a nation that had waited 76 years for a homegrown Wimbledon champion.
Federer won on superior skill and higher risk tactics but suggested afterward that Murray isn’t far off.
“I really do believe deep down he will win Grand Slams, not just one,” said Federer, who now has 17 major titles. “He works extremely hard. He’s as professional as you can be. I’m sure today he got one step closer to a Grand Slam title.”
Murray also got closer to a British sporting public that has never been quite sure it liked him, or vice versa, given his fierce Scottish pride.
On Sunday, they came to know him better, as the Scot struggled to speak through his tears in thanking his family, friends, coach and trainers for their support. Then he thanked the British fans, the ticket holders and TV viewers. They hadn’t added to the pressure he felt on this day, he said. They had made it all easier.
It was a rare glimpse at an athlete who has never shown great emotional range off court, delivering jokes and match analysis in the same sleepy monotone.
Murray has never gone out of his way to please or entertain the public. He’s all business, as pragmatic as they come, with no use for pretense.
He planned to stick with his familiar routine the morning of the most important match of his life. That included eating a bowl of porridge, taking his two terriers for a walk and riding to the All England club in a friend’s Volkswagen Golf.
He opened the final brilliantly, breaking Federer in the first game and blasting punishing groundstrokes that barely cleared the net. And when Federer improved, Murray couldn’t have battled harder, lunging full out to defend passing shots and tumbling to the ground three times.
He finished with fewer errors than Federer (25 to 38) but also fewer winners (46 to 62). And he surely finished with more bruises, physical and emotional, after joining his coach Ivan Lendl as the only player in the Open Era to lose his first four Grand Slam finals.
“When you lose, it’s hard. It’s tough to take,” Murray said. “But you need to try and show strength of character to come back from it. Hopefully one day, you get there.”