WIMBLEDON, England — From the moment he stepped onto Wimbledon’s lawn as a teenage phenom, Roger Federer felt he was destined to excel on the surface that frustrated so many others.
On Sunday, Federer reasserted his mastery over Centre Court’s hallowed ground, overcoming a less than sterling start to win his seventh Wimbledon championship and spoil a celebration Britain had waited 76 years to stage.
The Swiss defeated Scotland’s Andy Murray, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4, to claim the 17th major title of his career and his first in 21 / 2 years. In doing so, he reclaimed the world’s No. 1 ranking — a remarkable feat by a man who is still raising his sport’s standard of excellence on the cusp of his 31st birthday.
Murray, 25, was attempting to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936, when Fred Perry claimed the last of his three titles.
The Scot had galvanized the nation by reaching the tournament’s final, something no native son had done for 74 years. And royals and rock stars flocked to the All England club Sunday to cheer his pursuit, including the Duchess of Cambridge (the former Kate Middleton) and the Rolling Stones’ Ron Wood.
Murray, a stoic young man who has handled the pressure with remarkable aplomb, wept in thanking the crowd afterward, which proved more difficult, in some respects, than contesting the 3- hour 24-minute match against an opponent he deeply admires.
“I’m getting closer,” Murray said in a quivering, almost apologetic voice, eliciting hearty laughter and applause from those who shared his heartbreak over falling short in his first Wimbledon final.
The headlines of London’s Sunday newspapers had set a tense, desperate tone for the proceedings.
“We’re ALL Praying for You, Andy!” declared The Mail.
Stripped across The Independent’s front page: “Now’s the Day. Now’s the Hour.”
But it wasn’t to be. And one of the more painful losing streaks in British sporting history continues.
Federer and Murray had met 15 times before, with the Scot holding an 8-7 edge. But they’d never played on grass, the surface that has become Federer’s fiefdom the last decade.
The Swiss boasts the better serve, a greater array of strokes and vast big-match experience, having contested 23 Grand Slam finals.
Murray hadn’t won a single set in three previous major finals. But he brandishes a potent service return, blistering crosscourt backhand and surprising quickness.
Murray took the court with the weight of a nation on his shoulders. But in the early going, Federer played as if he carried the weight of the world.
The Swiss made a rare mental error to get broken in the opening game, leaping for a ball that was clearly sailing long only to botch the overhead. He erred repeatedly on his normally precise forehand. And with Murray driving flat, deep groundstrokes at his feet, Federer got caught out of position time and again.
After breaking the Scot to get back on serve, Federer got broken again in the ninth game. Serving for the set, Murray blasted an ace, then a service winner to hold, finally claiming a set in a Grand Slam final after being swept ignominiously in the championships of the 2008 U.S. Open and 2010 and 2011 Australian opens — the first two of those losses to Federer.
He was rewarded with a standing ovation.
Still, the Centre Court crowd couldn’t bring itself to root against Federer or cheer his mistakes.
Murray still had the upper hand well into the second set, which appeared headed for a tiebreak, with the Scot serving at 5-6. But two brilliant points by Federer changed everything — a backhand drop volley for break point, and a brilliant volley to win the game, leveling the match at one set each.
The skies opened 11 minutes into the third set. Play was suspended, and Centre Court’s retractable roof was deployed.
The score was a virtual deadlock: One set each, with Federer serving at 1-1, 40-love. The Swiss had won 86 points; Murray, 85.
Interruptions in play often change the momentum of a match. In this case, the decision to close the $120 million roof affected the proceedings more.
Federer was far more aggressive once play resumed, charging to the net and attacking Murray’s second serve with particular zeal.
With the roof negating the variable of wind, Federer explained later, he felt emboldened to try shots that had less margin for error. In a perfectly controlled environment, on a surface he loves, Federer starting striking the ball with surgical precision.
The sixth game gutted Murray, who bolted to a 40-love lead, then faced 10 deuces before plowing a backhand into the net on Federer’s sixth break point.
Within minutes, the Swiss had a two-sets-to-one lead. And he closed with little resistance from there.
Federer dropped to his knees in relief then gazed up at his box, where his twin daughters, almost 3, waved at their father.
“A magical moment,” he called it later.
“I’m so happy I’m at the age I am right now because I know I’ve had such a great run,” Federer said. “And I know there’s still more possible.”