Wimbledon Men’s Final Rewind: Andy Murray’s Historic Achievement, and More
The third major of 2013 ended today with an exclamation point as Andy Murray brought euphoria to a nation starved for a home-grown Wimbledon champion. Here are some thoughts.
That was…historic: 77 years, and counting no longer. It often must have felt like 777 years to Andy Murray and members of his team, so often did the media dangle British futility at Wimbledon over his head like the sword of Damocles. With a convincing straight-sets victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Murray echoed his achievement in winning an Olympic gold medal on home soil last year. He will open play on Centre Court at Wimbledon 2014 as the defending champion.
But also anticlimactic: Considering the magnitude of the history at stake, and the quality of his opponent, one felt certain that an epic of breathtaking drama would unfold. Instead, Djokovic played by far his worst match of the tournament at the most costly time. He surrendered 40 unforced errors across three sets even by the generous standards of the Wimbledon scorekeepers. Djokovic had much less reason to want this title desperately than did Murray, and it may have showed. Not that any British spectator regretted the routine scoreline.
Symptoms of a real rivalry: Through nearly 20 meetings now, the Djokovic-Murray rivalry has not caught fire to the extent that Federer-Nadal, Djokovic-Nadal, or Federer-Djokovic did. Perhaps it is the lack of contrast between their styles, or the fact that they rarely seem to play their best against each other at the same time. But the matchup in three of the last four major finals is the key ATP rivalry of the future, if not the present, and at least it has taken plenty of twists and turns. After Murray swept the Olympics and the US Open, Djokovic swept the year-end championships and the Australian Open, only to see Murray bounce back at Wimbledon. One cannot predict a winner between these two from one match to the next, not the case for long stretches of the Federer-Nadal and Djokovic-Nadal rivalries.
Return to normalcy: Their Australian Open matchup felt like an anomaly when neither man lost serve until the third set, and Djokovic never dropped serve at all. Wimbledon set this return-heavy rivalry back on track despite a surface oriented around the serve. Murray and Djokovic combined for 11 breaks across three sets, and at least one of them rallied from trailing by a break in every set.
The grass is greener: Murray’s decision to withdraw from Roland Garros in favor of maximizing his grass chances paid off in spades. He has won his last three tournaments on grass and reached four straight finals on the surface. With his victory over Djokovic, moreover, Murray has won eight consecutive sets against top-three opponents on grass. Could it become his favorite surface?
No place like Down Under: Despite his stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking and consensus recognition as the best player in the world, Djokovic has built most of his success on the Australian Open. His dominance there include a 4-0 record in finals and a 6-1 record against the Big Four, contrasted with a 2-5 record in finals and a 5-14 record against the Big Four at other majors. In fact, Murray now has matched Djokovic’s title count at other majors by winning one title each at Wimbledon and the US Open, none at Roland Garros.
Four in a row: Earlier in his career, Murray was the member of the Big Four most likely to stumble early or severely stub his toe. That trend has changed as he has reached the final at his last four majors, showing the consistency expected of a contender, and he has played a fifth set against only one opponent outside the Big Four in 2012-13. His No. 2 ranking owes much to that improvement.
Del Potro lurking (again): At the Olympics last year, Juan Martin Del Potro extended Roger Federer through a 36-game final set. It depleted the Swiss star’s energy ahead of the gold medal match against Murray. Something similar might have happened at Wimbledon this year when Del Potro battled Djokovic for 4 hours and 43 minutes ahead of the final against Murray. On the other hand, Djokovic’s superb fitness has risen above similar burdens before.
No competition, no problem: Not facing a single top-16 seed before the final, Murray did not struggle to raise his level when the level of competition spiked. Of course, quarterfinal and semifinal opponents Fernando Verdasco and Jerzy Janowicz played better than their rankings suggested.
Practice makes perfect: The experience of losing last year’s final may indeed have helped Murray survive the only slight patches of adversity that arrived this year. Winning the first set 6-4, as he did against Federer, he again found himself under pressure in the second set. But this time Murray held off a second-set rally that could have turned around the Wimbledon final for the second straight year. He did something similar in the third set, although by then a Djokovic comeback seemed implausible.
Hangover ahead: After he won the Olympics and the US Open last fall, Murray faded sharply over the next few months while adjusting to his new status as a major champion. One might expect a similar swoon after this equally important breakthrough at Wimbledon. On the other hand, Murray may feel spurred to defend his US Open title, and he usually shines on North American summer hard courts.
More drama elsewhere: France produced its second champion of this Wimbledon when Kristina Mladenovic partnered Daniel Nestor to win the mixed doubles title. The pair rallied from losing the first set and survived a topsy-turvy decider to win 8-6. The last set played on Centre Court in 2013, it epitomized many of this tournament’s unpredictable trajectories.