~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, July 8th 2012
The worst thing for a sportsman isn't losing. It's freezing. The days when you never get started, never find your feet or your rhythm, never find yourself: the days when you might as well not be there. Andy Murray, forced to carry the hopes and fears of a fretful home nation, could easily have had one of those days today.
But he didn't. Faced with an all-time great, a man who had won Wimbledon six times already, a man who arrived with nothing to lose but his enigmatic smirk, Murray was the more confident of the two. It was Roger Federer, of all people, who made a jittery start. Murray broke him straight away, which probably wasn't wise—the team that misses first in the penalty shoot-out tends to end up winning. He stirred the champion in Federer, who duly broke back—but Murray broke again and took the set. On Friday he had overcome one jinx, winning his first Wimbledon semi-final after three defeats. And today he shook off another, winning a set in a Grand Slam final for the first time. Inch by inch, he is getting there.
Murray led in the second set too, before Federer somehow stole it, with his distinctive mixture of genius and zen. After that act of escapology, Federer was free. Murray reverted to type temperamentally and physically, falling over, shouting out, cursing himself, his luck, the lines, making some wasteful challenges. Federer, the old master, had reduced him to a tetchy teenager. But he still produced big serves at some crucial moments, and a few delicious groundstrokes. And it still took some magic to beat him.
In the end Federer fully deserved his record-equalling seventh championship. He had to win two tough matches, including a semi against the then world number one, Novak Djokovic. Murray's opponents had been good, not great, and he got lucky with the early departure of the man who usually beats him in the semis, Rafael Nadal. But the main thing is this: Murray got to the final, and did himself justice. He didn't freeze. And at the end, in his weepy, gracious speech, he melted—so while he lost the match, he won over a lot of people.
Tim de Lisle is editor of Intelligent Life