September 10, 2012

"I Don't Think You're Ready..."

For years it seemed that Andy Murray, long touted as Britain's best hope for its first Grand Slam trophy since 1936, fell just a bit short.

Yes, he had put together a decorated career -- twenty-three titles heading into the U.S. Open, eight Masters and Olympic Gold -- had risen as high as #2 in the world, had pulled off some big upsets over the greats like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. But while his contemporaries were able to break through at the Majors, Murray was left listless, failing to win a set in his first three attempts and eventually succumbing after taking the first one this year at Wimbledon.

That changed in New York this week, when the twenty-five year old with the weight of the United Kingdom on his shoulders proved he could handle the pressure and was finally able end the region's seventy-six year Slam drought. And the match he did it in was more than worthy of making history.

Murray had faced a couple challenges en route to his second U.S. Open final -- he'd battled through four sets with Feliciano Lopez in the third round and came back from sets down against both Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych before securing his spot in Monday's match. Defending champion Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, had a relatively straightforward path, dropping only a set in his windblown semi against David Ferrer on Saturday before closing out the match yesterday afternoon. Nole was arguably the more rested competitor, had five Majors in his pocket already, and was 29-3 on hardcourts already this season. History was on his side but, as it would turn out, fate was not.

The #3 seed came out swinging Monday, getting the first break of the match, but ceding it almost immediately. Djokovic climbed back from behind later in the set and eventually forced a tiebreak, one that lasted twenty-two hotly contested points. After squandering a handful of set points the Scot finally got the first set and amazingly built a 4-0 lead in the second before Nole regrouped. In an amazing turn, the Serb won five of the next six games and clawed his way to five-all. He failed, this time, to push his opponent to another tiebreak though and was suddenly down two big, seemingly insurmountable, sets.

That's when things started to change. Nole got an early break in the third and Murray berated himself -- he cursed his exhausted, "jelly"-turned legs, sprayed an inordinate number of errors and was broken a second time to lose the set. He was no better off in the fourth, but though he continued to get angry -- both at his box and at his supposedly feeble legs -- he kept reaching for every ball. Djokovic got a break again early, but it took some of the most spectacular shot-making of the tournament for him to force a deciding set. Still, with momentum on his side and Murray's body seeming to be failing him, it looked like we were in for a repeat champion.

But part of the magic of New York is that you can't ever count someone out. After over four hours of play Murray seemed to get a second wind -- he ran off with another two break lead in the decider and though he gave one back he was decidedly in control when Nole started to cramp. It took nearly an hour more, but he was finally able to close out the match, securing for him and his country the trophy that had eluded them for so long.

So after a long, drawn-out wait, it appears Andy Murray finally is ready to be considered part of the sport's top tier. Whether he's able to follow up on this maiden Major like his stoic mentor Ivan Lendl and capture several more trophies or whether he becomes a one-Slam wonder in the vein of Gaston Gaudio and the like is yet to be seen -- something tells me there are at least a few more wins left in this one.

And we might just have to prepare ourselves, ready or not, for the fact that whatever jelly Andy Murray is made out of is the kind that will win championships.

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