LONDON--For Britain, Andy Murray’s victory at Wimbleon on Sunday was a collective dream come true, a triumph they’ve longed for for decades.
Murray, a Scotsman whose sometimes dour, always expressive demeanor on the court did not always endear him to the rest of the nation, defeated No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic to become the first British man to win the tennis singles championship since Fred Perry in 1936.
The last singles champion the country has produced was Virginia Wade in 1977, which seemed ordained by the stars because it coincided with the silver jubilee, the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. But that only sharpened the ache for a men’s winner, the lack of which was always painfully evident on the grounds of Wimbledon itself, where a statue of Perry reminded Britons of their long wait.
Previous players, particularly Tim Henman, came to symbolize British striving but also the country’s failure to break through. Henman embodied a certain middle-class Englishness, a gentlemanly competitor who never failed to try his best but who came up short and showed his class through his grace in losing.
Murray is more of a gut player, one who may be British but is most definitely not English. He once told an interviewer that the soccer team he supported was whichever one happened to be playing against the English squad, annoying many English fans. It merely gave more credence to the shibboleth that, when he wins, the country considers Murray “British”; when he loses, he’s “a Scot.”
But as he began to rack up victories, the home crowd began warming to him, and his heartfelt, weepy runner’s-up speech at last year’s Wimbledon final, where he lost in four sets to Swiss ace Roger Federer, rehabilitated his reputation for many detractors. Others also found his life story inspiring: As a child, he lived through the 1996 massacre of 16 boys and girls at his school in Dunblane, Scotland, by a gunman who then committed suicide.
When, just a few weeks after last year’s Wimbledon, he won the Olympic gold medal on the same grass court against the same opponent – Roger Federer – the nation celebrated. But that was part of the overall jubilation over Britain’s excellent showing at the Summer Games in London.
Murray’s defeat of Djokovic at the U.S. Open in September buoyed his compatriots’ hopes further. He was now a proven Grand Slam winner, not just a three-time runner-up, and Britain sensed its moment might be near.
The shocking upsets of Federer and former champion Rafael Nadal in Murray’s half of the draw during this year’s tournament added to the anticipation and expectation. Commentators on the BBC and in other media spoke incessantly in their august tones of the pressure heaped on Murray’s shoulders, the burden of the hopes of an entire nation.
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