London. After reveling in a rousing Olympic summer of sporting success, Britain awoke Tuesday to another major milestone: Finally, after 76 years of waiting, the country has a male Grand Slam tennis champion.
Andy Murray’s five-set victory over Novak Djokovic in the US Open final provided the perfect bookend to a summer in which a British rider won the Tour de France and British athletes scooped heaps of medals at the hugely successful London Olympics and Paralympics.
After losing in four previous Grand Slam finals, Murray outlasted defending champion Djokovic 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 after nearly five hours to become the British man to win a Slam since Fred Perry captured the Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1936.
At last, for Britain, the “Fred Perry curse” has been broken — although until Murray wins Wimbledon, it won’t be fully put to rest.
“Thank God that’s over. Thank God we can let Fred Perry lie easy. Thank God for Andy Murray,” wrote the Guardian newspaper website.
Fittingly, Murray’s breakthrough came in a year when Britain has enjoyed its greatest sports summer of a generation — coinciding with national celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s “Diamond Jubilee” of 60 years on the throne.
In a message posted on Twitter, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “delighted Andy Murray is continuing a golden summer of sport by winning the US Open. A truly great victory.”
The summer began with Bradley Wiggins becoming the first British rider to win the Tour de France. Then came the Olympics, where Britain recorded its best showing in 104 years with 29 gold medals (including Murray winning the men’s singles) and 65 medals in all. Britain celebrated the close of the Paralympics on Sunday after winning 120 medals, including 34 gold.
More than 1 million people lined the streets of London on Monday to cheer the nation’s Olympians and Paralympians in a two-hour parade to mark the end of the 2012 Games.
A few hours later, with most of the country asleep, Murray became the first man to win the U.S. Open and Olympic gold in the same year.
“The forecast of course was made yesterday that the great summer of British sport was over, but he’s given us another immense prize to wake up to,” Cameron said, speaking outside his Downing Street residence.
The victory came on the exact day — Sept. 10 — that Perry won the US title in 1936. It also came in Murray’s fifth Grand Slam final, following in the footsteps of his coach, Ivan Lendl, who lost in his first four Grand Slam finals before going on to win eight major titles.
Nowhere was the impact of Murray’s win felt more deeply than in his Scottish hometown of Dunblane, a cathedral town made famous for a mass shooting in 1996, when a gunman killed 16 children and their teacher in an elementary school.
A noisy crowd of about 80 people packed into the bar at the Dunblane Hotel to watch the match that ended shortly after 2 a.m. British time, cheering wildly when Djokovic hit a forehand service return long on the final point.
Murray did most of his tennis training as a youth in Barcelona but remains fiercely loyal to his Scottish roots. Two other famous Scots — actor Sean Connery and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson — were among those in the stands cheering him on at Flushing Meadows.
“Now Olympic and US Open champion, Andy truly is a Scottish sporting legend and I’m certain that more Grand Slam titles will follow,” Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said.
The end of the match came too late for many British newspapers, but Murray’s triumph made some late editions.
“History Boy!” blared the tabloid Daily Mirror on the front page. On the sports pages, the Mirror launched a campaign for a Murray knighthood: “Arise Sir Andy: Grand Slam Glory at Last. Oh What a Knight.”
British TV stations camped out early Tuesday at the modest tennis courts where Murray got his start as a young boy, interviewing youngsters who said they were inspired by his triumph.
It’s been a long time coming.
Murray is one of only two men in the Open era, which began in 1968, to have lost his first four Grand Slam finals — against Djokovic in the 2011 Australian Open, and against Roger Federer at the 2008 US Open, 2010 Australian Open and this year’s Wimbledon.
It was Murray’s decisive, straight-sets victory over Federer in the Olympic final in August on Centre Court at Wimbledon — less than a month after the Wimbledon defeat — that lifted his self-belief and provided the platform for his Grand Slam success.
“Ever since he won the Olympics he has walked around with a lot more confidence,” said Murray’s former coach, Leon Smith. “After winning yesterday, it’s going to do even more so now. For a great summer of British tennis this is the icing on the cake.”
Former British player Greg Rusedski said Murray can only go higher.
“Having won this, he can go on to win many majors and maybe end the year as … No. 1,” he said.
Murray is currently ranked No. 4 but is close behind No. 3 Rafael Nadal. Djokovic is No. 1 in this week’s rankings, with Federer dropping to No. 2.
Also crucial to Murray’s success has been the influence of Lendl, the no-nonsense Czech-born coach who won two French Opens, two Australian Opens and three US Opens.
“So much confidence has come from Andy’s Olympics win and Lendl has added a great presence,” said former British player Roger Taylor, a four-time Grand Slam semifinalist. “There is such a similarity (between the two). It will have given Andy more belief to see Ivan go on to win many Grand Slams and it took him five. He (Lendl) has made a great difference.”
For years, Murray has been considered just a rung below the “Big Three” of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, who had shared 29 of the previous 30 major titles. Now he’s joined the club and Britain is rejoicing.
“We are all delighted for Andy,” Wimbledon chairman Philip Brook said. “Winning your first Grand Slam has to be a very special moment in a player’s career and it was a fantastic performance in an epic final to cap a truly memorable summer of tennis for him personally, and for British tennis.”
Even more special would be lifting the Wimbledon trophy. In July, Murray became the first British man to reach the Wimbledon final in 74 years.
The pursuit of Fred Perry is not quite over.