Murray, 25, was brilliant in all facets of the game — serve, service return, defense and offense — and resolute from the first ball to the last.
And Federer, 30, who was seeking the one title that would have completed a Golden Slam by adding Olympic singles gold to the cache of majors he already owns, was reduced to a misfiring imposter.
“I’ve had a lot of tough losses in my career, but this is the best way to come back from the Wimbledon final,” said Murray, who buried his face in his hands as the tears formed, then made his way to his courtside box to embrace of his longtime girlfriend, family, trainers, coach and supporters.
“I’ll never forget it.”
And the ecstatic Center Court crowd of 14,000, as well as the thousands who perched on the rain-soaked hillside beyond just to watch on a wide-screen TV, erupted in deafening cheers, applause, whistles.
“Ahn-DEE!” “Ahn-DEE!” they shouted, along with “Team GB!” “Team GB!”
A fiercely proud Scot, Murray was all of Britain’s pride Sunday. He was the son who made a nation pop at its seams. And their joy extended far beyond the gold medal that was draped around Murray’s neck. In routing the peerless Federer, the reigning world No. 1 and grass-court master, who just last month won his seventh Wimbledon title, Murray rekindled glorious memories among Britain’s long-suffering tennis fans.
But it was all of them — the nation’s spirited sports fans, Olympic ticket-holders and TV viewers — that Murray insisted should take a bow for giving Britain’s Olympians an extra measure of energy.
Earlier Sunday, Venus and Serena Williams added to America’s gold-medal tally while making personal history, becoming the first to win four Olympic tennis gold medals with their 6-4, 6-4 victory over Czechs Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in the women’s doubles final.
It was a powerful and well-crafted performance by the sisters, who each now have three Olympic doubles golds and one singles gold. Venus won her singles title at the 2000 Sydney Games; Serena followed suit Saturday, thrashing Maria Sharapova 6-0, 6-1 to join Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal as the only players to complete a career Golden Slam.
“We’ve been winning this title since 2000, but it’s easier said than done,” said Venus, who has competed infrequently since being diagnosed last year with an auto-immune disorder that causes joint pain and fatigue. “We come in as favorites, but it’s not a given.”
It was clear even before the first ball was struck in Sunday’s men’s final that this would be an unusual treat at the staid All England club, where the all-white dress code was waived so Olympians could display their national colors.
Standing ovations are customary when revered champions step onto Center Court. But the ovation when Federer led Murray out lasted through the players’ warmups. And once play got under way, the fans didn’t politely applaud excellent shots, as Wimbledon crowds do; they erupted in lusty, barroom cheers.
Murray gave them plenty of cause.
The Olympic gold-medal final, like all men’s Grand Slam finals, was a best-of-five-set affair. But Federer never pressed the matter.
Center Court has been Federer’s fiefdom since 2003, when he won the first of his seven Wimbledon titles. But midway through Sunday’s opening set, the Swiss champion found himself under siege.
Murray got the first service break and held serve in the next game with back-to-back aces. He claimed the opening set in 38 minutes.
And Federer’s struggles bled into the second set. Murray broke the Swiss at love in his first service game, in which Federer slammed a routine overhead into the net then blasted a cross-court backhand several feet beyond the baseline. The errors were so out of character, it was as if a weekend duffer had suddenly inhabited Federer’s body.
Meantime, Murray played tremendous defense, sprinting all over the court to retrieve balls that otherwise would have been winners.
As the prospect of victory moved inexorably beyond Federer’s grasp, his decision-making grew even hastier. It was odd to see Federer charge to the net behind ill-conceived approach shots. Time and again Murray made him pay with blistering passing shots.
Afterward, Federer praised Murray for a superior effort but conceded his own performance might have suffered from the mental and physical toll of his near exit in the first round and a record 4-hour 26-minute semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro, who Sunday defeated Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, 7-5, 6-4, to win the bronze.
“That’s the best I could have done this tournament,” said Federer, adding that he was proud to add a silver medal to the doubles gold he won at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“I know that sounds strange, as people are so used to me wining and [think] only winning makes me happy. But I’m a happy tennis player, so a good result like this is obviously going to make me feel extremely proud and very happy.”
Said Murray: “I was expecting it to be an incredibly tough match. Every time I play him, especially in the tough matches, he has played so well and made it so difficult for me . . . But no way did I expect a score-line like that.”