x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Wimbledon: Andy Murray hopes the wait has been worth it

After his first grand slam title and an Olympic gold medal last year, Great Britain's Andy Murray is in form to finally win at the All England Club, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Great Britain’s Andy Murray lofts up a serve during a practice session at Wimbledon on Sunday. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images
Great Britain’s Andy Murray lofts up a serve during a practice session at Wimbledon on Sunday. Mike Hewitt / Getty Images

Last August, as Andy Murray stood triumphant on the Centre Court of the All England Club, he found an 11-year-old boy next to him, his arms raised, wanting to hug the newly crowned Olympic champion.

"As soon as Andy Murray won I was crying with joy," Henry Caplan, the boy, later said. "I was hugging my dad and the next moment I was gone. I had to go. I was down near the Royal Box area in front of Roger Federer's family and then I hugged Andy Murray. I just thought I had to be there."

The boy's father, himself caught in a swirl of emotions, never realised his son was missing until he was told his child was on television.

"I was hugging him when he said: 'Let me go', and I didn't know what was going on," Caplan senior said. "Then the lady next to me said: 'Your son is on television' and I looked up and there he was. He should not have left my side, of course. But I'm so proud of him."

It was a poignant moment. Perhaps, one of the most touching events on a tennis court of recent times. The emotions were understandable, too. A Briton had won a final on that hallowed turf for the first time in living memory. Unfortunately, and here is the dampener, it was not the triumph yearned for by a nation for seven decades.

The fans, and all of Britain, would have preferred to see that win come 28 days earlier – in the final of the Wimbledon Championships. Instead, they saw Murray reduced to tears at the post-final ceremony, his voice quivering as he said, "Right, I'm going to try this and it's not going to be easy."

The Scot also managed to utter two more words: "Getting closer." And those were prophetic on more than one level. Murray meant he was getting closer to winning his first grand slam; it was his fourth defeat in the final of the tennis majors. But those tears – and Murray has since said he regrets that public show of emotion – also brought him closer to the fans. They finally saw his human side. He had ceased to be that "Scottish" humanoid.

"I find it slightly sad it took him to cry in his acceptance speech for people to suddenly take a step back and go: 'Wow, you know he has got a heart, he is a sensitive soul'," Tim Henman, the former British No 1, says about those tears in a just-released BBC documentary: Andy Murray: the Man Behind the Racquet.

Andre Agassi, the 1992 Wimbledon champion, also shared his thoughts on that moment.

"I liked seeing it because you want to see somebody care, watch them communicate how much that moment meant," he says in the documentary. "It made me want to root for him more, no question."

The Team Great Britain fans shared the same sentiments and cheered him on to the Olympic gold, avenging his Wimbledon loss to Federer. And then a few weeks later, at the US Open, Murray beat Novak Djokovic in five sets for his first grand slam final triumph.

Djokovic had bounced back from a two-set deficit to force a decider, but Murray was determined not to lose his fifth final.

"No one had lost their first five grand slam finals," he said last week. "I splashed water on my face and told myself loudly it wasn't going to happen again."

It did not. A nation celebrated and Britain could finally boast their first male singles grand slam champion since Fred Perry won Wimbledon in 1936.

Murray then reached his third successive major final in January, beating Federer, for the first time in a grand slam, along the way. In the final, he lost to Djokovic, but the grass courts of Wimbledon could give him the opportunity to avenge that defeat. The two childhood rivals and friends are seeded to meet in the final.

Before that, Murray opens this year's tournament today in a Centre Court match with the German Benjamin Becker. He could face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a quarter-final and Federer or Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. John McEnroe, the three-time Wimbledon champion, is confident the Scot can conquer that field.

"I think it very well could be Murray's year," the American said. "The thing is that he's playing great. He's positioned himself well, having not played at the French. I think that will help him. And obviously winning Queen's is a nice positive for him.

"The draw is tough for Murray, there's no doubt about it. But, having won a slam and won the Olympics, now he's really comfortable on this court and on the biggest stage."

Another former Wimbledon champion, Goran Ivanisevic, has also picked Murray to win.

"If you were to ask me who was to win Wimbledon this time around I would say Murray," the 2001 winner said. "It will be great if he wins for Britain. You guys like your tradition."

Murray knows that as well. Thanks to the Scot, Britain does not have to go back to 1936 to find their last male grand slam singles champion. But until he wins Wimbledon, the ghost of Fred Perry will live at the All England Club.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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