WIMBLEDON, England — Not many earthlings can sit around and compare their multiple Wimbledon titles, but on Sunday a 29-year-old Scot earned such extravagance. Andy Murray can say that in 2013, he put his face in the grass and bawled briefly in victory, where in 2016, he bent over and bawled briefly in victory. Otherwise, there’s a striking contrast.
Somehow, that previous title wound up churning out “pure relief,” he said, because it ended 77 years of British male singles drought, not to mention eight Wimbledons of Murray hauling around British tennis hopes and British tennis questions. By Sunday, his 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-2) win over debut Grand Slam finalist Milos Raonic wound up causing plain old mirth.
“Yes, I mean, it is different,” he said two hours after Raonic’s last lunging backhand hit the net. “I feel happier this time. I feel, yeah, more content this time. You know, I feel like this was sort of more for myself than for anything, and my team as well. . . . You know, last time it was just pure relief, and I really didn’t enjoy the moment as much, whereas I’m going to make sure I enjoy this one more than the others.”
As the No. 2 player in the world found his third Grand Slam title and played his 11th Grand Slam final like a fully realized maestro, he could look back at the full cauldron of stemming a drought. “You just kind of get dragged in all sorts of different directions afterwards,” he said.
Three years on, he had some rare vista, as did his mother, Judy Murray, the first architect of his game with its bulging quiver of shots. “Certainly, I think all of us around him that knew the whole journey that he’d gone through to get where he got to, and had seen how devastated he was the year before when he lost to [Roger] Federer [in the 2012 Wimbledon final], it was a relief,” said Judy Murray, who played briefly on tour in the early 1980s. “And I think for all the years from him being a very promising junior, to getting where he got to, and the constant, ‘When are you going to win Wimbledon?’ ‘When are you going to win Wimbledon?’ ‘When are you going to win Wimbledon?’ and the relief when he actually did it was something else.”
Now, everything clarified. For the first time, after going 2-8 in his first 10 Grand Slam finals, he played a final opposite someone other than Federer or Novak Djokovic, with Raonic having ousted the former in the semifinals and American Sam Querrey having shooed the latter in the third round. Against the first Canadian male Grand Slam finalist, Murray gave a superb rendition of his defensive game. Against a big bruiser with a blasting serve and volleying touch and a No. 7 world ranking, Murray earned an old compliment Raonic soon paid anew.
“He is one of the two best returners in the game,” Raonic said, the other being No. 1 Djokovic.
Further, the experience gap shouted from the two tiebreakers. In the first, Raonic blundered a short-ball backhand and made an insufficient overhead. “I’ll sort of look back at that with not too much joy,” he said. In the second, Murray played sublimely as he got to leads of 5-0 and 6-1, his crushing inside-out forehand to the opposite-field corner for 5-0 sending the partisan audience into loud rapture.
“I think, having watched them play in Queen’s [the Wimbledon tuneup], it’s quite a good matchup for Andy in that Milos’s biggest weapon is his serve and Andy’s so good at the return,” Judy Murray said. “But I think Andy was moving really well, and he was hitting so well off the ground, and he was seeing the serve well. When Milos was chucking in the 130-to-140 [mph] serves on a regular basis, for the most part, Andy was managing to combat them.”
Further still, don’t forget the passing shots, in a match with a 21-0 imbalance in serve-and-volley points (Raonic’s favor) and 46-17 in net points. “Yeah, he’s going to pass you,” Raonic said. “He moves well. He gets himself in good position. He has good hands. He has good touch. He’s going to pass you. I tried to put myself up there and sort of dare him to do it.”
And further still, Murray won even the serving game-within-game. He had a 34-29 lead in unreturned serves. The aces went a harmless 8-7 to Raonic. Only two of Murray’s 17 service games went to deuce. He saw only two break points on his luminous path, both in the fifth game of the third set, and he cleared away those.
“I do feel like I’m able to, I don’t know, play a more offensive game style now in pressure situations than maybe I did when I was younger, because [then] I was so worried about the outcome or thinking about winning the match,” he said. “I think now I’m able to sort of play each point a lot better.”
Suddenly, as he won match point, dropped his racket and punched through the air with his right arm, his year had blossomed into quite something. He has reached all three Grand Slam finals (losing two to Djokovic). He has reached the finals of his last five tournaments, winning three. He said, “I mean, some of it’s confidence, obviously.” He is back with his former and current coach, Ivan Lendl, the stoic’s stoic, and everyone from Andy to Judy and beyond credits that. He just won a Wimbledon in which he lost only two sets, both in the quarterfinals to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Then, beyond all of that, he had a happy Wimbledon title to accompany his relief Wimbledon title.
“Today was probably as good as I’ve seen him play,” his mother said.
“I still feel like my best tennis is ahead of me,” said the rare man who can compare Wimbledon titles.