Andy Murray: Deliverance
As the clock reached four hours and fifty four minutes, Djokovic’s “Go for Broke” forehand return missed paint – and a page was turned in British tennis history, a page that Great Britain has been ever so eager to turn for the last seventy six years. There are movies you watch sometimes, not for what the tale is, but for the sheer pulsating and heart-throbbing way in which the story is narrated by the raconteur. This was one such tale, it certainly will not make the cut for the best match ever played in the history of the game – but what it lacked in consistent quality, it more than compensated with such exhilarating melo-drama. After all – more than twenty thousand screaming New Yorkers cheering and egging on a Scotsman had melodrama woven into its intrinsic fabric. No more justification needed, as even double o-seven was in attendance, as my friends would like to condescendingly remark – the ‘Real’ double o-seven.
The final was forced to be played under windy conditions, which is an interesting problem. On the one hand, we want grand slam finals to be decided on the quality of sport played by each of the two players, and not by external conditions. It is the reason why we were disappointed when Rafael Nadal withdrew, you want grand slams to be won against a full strength field and not due to the absence of players. It is not too unreasonable to say that natural hindrances such as winds do affect each player to a different degree – and it is not the player’s fault to what degree he is affected by such conditions. With Murray’s versatility juxtaposed against Djokovic’s precision, the winds do affect the player whose game is predicated on precision more than the reflexive counter-puncher. It became very clear that Djokovic does not like playing under such conditions, and his “HEAD” paid the price for his frustration. Now, did Murray handle the conditions better, absolutely. Murray reveled in it, while Djokovic was in “Make Do” mode. But is it disappointing that natural conditions did govern the result to a certain extent ? personally, to me it is. But I do see the point of handling whatever a grand slam tournament throws at you for fourteen (oops – fifteen) days, to eventually lift the trophy. Murray certainly deserves consummate credit for dealing with the conditions better, and the fact his game lends itself to such conditions more than Djokovic’s does is unfortunate, but it certainly is not Murray’s problem. After all – it is still an outdoor tournament.
As they played a titanic eight seven minute – first set, the tiebreaker presented opportunities for both men to take a crucial lead. One had an inkling Murray needed the first set more than the Serb did. Time and again you could see Murray adapt ever so elegantly to the wind, by employing his deft touch and softer feel on the ball, while Djokovic dug deep and defended with his backhand slice, in what reminded me of a trench-warfare. It was not always elegant, but it certainly was Battle Royale. Contrary to a close first set in the semis in Melbourne park earlier this year, Murray won 7-6, as Djokovic blinked first. If one has to be critical – the next half an hour or so was when Djokovic played like he did not belong there. He quickly went down 0-4 and mentally checked out, when you expect the opposite from him. He eventually equalised it to five all – but one wonders if this is where he let the lead get too big, and was found wanting. Djokovic has this look where he shakes his head by puckering his lip while looking at heavens, a hint of a sarcastic smile that screams, “You dont want me to win ? is that why you sent the wind ? Lets just see, I am Novak Djokovic, and you have no idea what I can do on a tennis court. Lets just see how this all shakes out in the end“. That look has two objectives – he lets his opponent know what he is thinking, and he also talks to God during those times. If you watch closely, he had the exact same look – a look of sheer disdain and lack of care, when he was match points down against Federer in last year’s semi-final. What happened next back then, as we more often than not say – is history. Murray held his nerve for a two set lead: 7-6 7-5.
It was now time for Arthur Ashe to witness the Scotsman’s weakness. One almost wonders if Murray enjoys problem solving too much ? He certainly has a knack for making simple things complicated. Great Britain has long embraced the tradition of suffering through its sportsman (the penalty kick shootout in soccer, being a true testament) – and Murray had no intention of diverging from that long cherished tradition. He lost the third set 2-6, and went down a break in the fourth as soon as it started. “JELLY”, he would scream at his legs, berating their apparent lack of energy. His fans knew what they were in for, its almost like Murray likes to suffer on court, even during the times when he has a clear path to victory. Ofcourse, if you ask him he would potentially say, he only wished he had the flexibility to lose and win at his own volition, but that is how it appears when you watch the Scot time again squander promising positions in a tennis match. All credit to Djokovic who found his range from the baseline – enough, but never completely with the wind blowing. With a potential to be as precise and streamlined as a Scuderia Ferrari from the baseline, Djokovic’s game barely reached the precision of a Volkswagen, but it got the job done this evening. To his credit, Djokovic dug deep and toughed it out – and showed New York that he can win when the going gets tough, after all, this is the world number two we are talking about. As we went past four hours, the final was dead heat. Murray knew the final set in his most favorite tournament separates him from history. It was now, or he gains himself another agonisingly close loss in a grand slam final, his fifth. Djokovic had the momentum – or so he thought, and even James Bond was found twitching in his seat.
The first ten minutes into the final set, and Murray had a break in hand. Djokovic had bloodied knees, they looked bruised and battered, and his movement – clearly off the pace. Murray played like he was indeed possessed – and his confidence soaring after a healthy lead in the final set. Djokovic got one break back, but Murray simply had too much game and confidence to let this slide. It was fitting that this convoluted tale finally had one of its protagonists derive and embrace the energy he drew from the crowd, to fuel himself to the finish line. Djokovic’s tank ran empty, as Murray encouraged the crowd to get more resonant – as if that was even possible ? Minutes after midnight, as Djokovic’s return sailed long, Murray stared at the crowd – mouth closed with both hands, and stunned in silence. The scoreline read 6-2, for the final set. He was the most silent man inside the cauldron of Arthur Ashe, but perhaps the most satisfied. Djokovic went past the net to embrace Murray, once again displaying his genuine appreciation for his opponents when they win. One can almost make a legitimate claim that this is probably the richest era in men’s tennis for a long time. It was impossible but to conclude that on this evening in New York – the better player won. As raucous celebrations ensued on both sides of the Atlantic, Murray remained satisfied, silent and had the look of a man who finished his life long crusade towards Deliverance. A number of grand slam trophies beckon – for the future. Somewhere, ever so silently across that little pond – a page was turned in the adorned British tennis history. This cold and windy morning in New York City truly belonged to a man we call – Muzza. Even double O-SEVEN was on his feet – you don’t get that every day now, do you ?