But in the context of British sporting history, the interminable final game of Sunday’s Wimbledon tennis championship was an eye-blink.
After fending off three break points, Murray cracked a huge serve that yanked world No. 1 Novak Djokovic wide, then followed with a forehand blast that the Serb plowed into the net. With it, Murray’s lifelong ambition was realized. And Britain’s 77-year wait for a homegrown men’s Wimbledon champion was over.
Camera shutters snapped, tears flowed, and Union Jack and Scottish saltire flags were raised in jubilation upon Murray’s 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 victory.
Since Fred Perry won the last of his three Wimbledon titles in 1936, Britain’s failure to produce a worthy heir had come to symbolize all the grandeur that had faded from the empire. England’s Tim Henman reached Wimbledon’s semifinal four times from 1998 to 2002 but lacked the grit and power to gut out the seven matches of best-of-five sets required to win the grass-court classic. Each year Henman fell short, Britain’s psyche seemed to suffer another small blow.
The 2012 London Olympics restored a measure of sporting pride. The city staged a glorious spectacle. British athletes won 65 medals. And at the All England club, Murray claimed the gold medal in the tennis competition.
But Wimbledon, the world’s oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament, is the true measure of greatness in the sport. And however proud the British were of Murray’s evolution from gangly Scottish teen to 2012 Olympic and U.S. Open champion, they would have regarded him as yet another disappointment had he never won Wimbledon.
After finally reaching the final last year, Murray wept upon losing to Roger Federer, the Swiss master whose game is perfectly tailored to grass, which rewards quickness, agility and a clever array of strokes.
If Murray’s return to the championship Sunday wasn’t the most anticipated event in Britain, it was second only to the birth of the Royal Baby. The story lines vied for prominence in London’s Sunday papers, with the Observer proclaiming “Day of Destiny” as Murray prepared for battle and the Sunday People touting “William’s Baby Vows,” which reportedly include promising “to change nappies” once Catherine, duchess of Cambridge, gives birth.
Centre Court’s Royal Box shimmered with statesmen, sporting heroes and global glitterati, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, the earl and countess of St. Andrews, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, tennis champion Rod Laver, soccer star Wayne Rooney, actors Gerard Butler and Bradley Cooper and former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham.
On the grounds beyond the stadium there wasn’t room for an extra fanny on Murray Mound (formerly known as Henman Hill), where fans draped in flags and covered in face paint watched on an oversize TV screen. Hundreds more watched via a giant screen set up next to Tower Bridge on the banks of the River Thames, where the clash of the world’s top two ranked players was occasion for a festival, chocked with food and drink stalls, including one hawking haggis in Murray’s honor.