Murray finally wins Grand Slam with US Open title

Associated Press Modified: September 10, 2012 at 11:18 pm •  Published: September 10, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — For Andy Murray, and for Britain, this was all rather fitting.

Forced into a fifth set, despite winning the first two, against defending champion Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open final.

A record-tying 4 hours, 54 minutes of leg-burning, stomach-roiling, tales-in-themselves points lasting 10, 20, 30, even 55 — yes, 55! — strokes.

And hanging over it all, the knowledge that Murray came up short in four previous Grand Slam title matches, adding to the 76-year, 286-tournament drought since the last major trophy for a British man.

All in all, well worth the wait.

His considerable lead, and chance at history, slipping away, Murray dug deep for stamina and mental strength, shrugging off a comeback bid and outlasting Djokovic 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 on Monday to win the championship at Flushing Meadows.

"Relief is probably the best word I would use to describe how I'm feeling just now," Murray said. "You're in a little bit of disbelief, because when I have been in that position many times before and not won, you do think: Is it ever going to happen?"

Yes, it did. Murray already had proved he could come up big, winning the gold medal in front of a home crowd at the London Olympics last month. That was part of what's become a special summer for him, including an appearance — although, alas, a defeat, of course — in the Wimbledon final. But this was different from the Olympics. This was a victory at a Grand Slam tournament, the standard universally used to measure tennis greatness.

"Even after I won the Olympics," Murray recalled Monday, "I still got asked, 'When are you going to win a Grand Slam?'"

Djokovic, who had won four of the previous seven, said: "He deserved to win this Grand Slam more than anybody, I'm sure, because over the years, he's been a top player. He's been so close."

Ah, yes, so close. Words used often when discussing Murray. Even by him.

His loss to Roger Federer at the All England Club in July left Murray in tears, his voice cracking as he told the supportive Centre Court crowd, "I'm getting closer." He couldn't have known how right he was. And Murray appeared to be right on the verge Monday, after seizing an epic first set in a 25-minute, 22-point tiebreaker — the longest for a U.S. Open final — and then racing to a 4-0 lead in the second.

But maybe it wouldn't have been quite right for this to come easily, given all that Murray and — since Fred Perry won Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1936 — the British have been through, the subject of much conversation and consternation in the United Kingdom, where the first of what would become tennis' top titles was awarded at Wimbledon in 1877.

Murray was one of only two men in the professional era, which began in 1968, to have lost his first four Grand Slam finals — against Djokovic in the 2011 Australian Open, and against Federer three times.

The other guy who began 0-4? Ivan Lendl, who just so happens to be Murray's coach nowadays. Murray's added aggressiveness is one of the improvements he's made under the tutelage of Lendl, who sat still for much of the match, eyeglasses perched atop his white baseball hat and crossed arms resting on his red sweater — in sum, betraying about as much emotion as he ever did during his playing days.

"All you can do is keep putting yourself in the position, and keep giving it all you have. If somebody's that much better than you, that's too bad, and you go again and try again," said Lendl, who wound up with eight major titles. "You sit back, try to figure out where you can improve, what you have to improve to beat certain players, and then you go and work on it."

As the finish approached, Djokovic — who had won eight consecutive five-set matches, including the semifinal (against Murray) and final (against Rafael Nadal) at the Australian Open in January — was the one looking fragile, doing deep knee bends at the baseline to stretch his aching muscles. After getting broken to trail 5-2 in the fifth, Djokovic had his legs massaged by a trainer.

"Well, any loss is a bad loss. There is no question about it," Djokovic said. "I'm disappointed to lose the match, but in the back of my mind I knew that I gave it all. I really, really tried to fight my way back."

No one had blown a two-set lead in the U.S. Open title match since 1949, and Murray was determined not to claim that distinction.

"If I had lost this one from two sets up," Murray said, "that would have been a tough one to take."

Djokovic knows how to fashion a comeback. He's won three times after facing a two-set hole, most recently in the French Open's fourth round this year, and most notably in the U.S. Open's semifinals against Federer last year.

"Novak is so, so strong. He fights until the end in every single match," Murray said. "I don't know how I managed to come through in the end."

Murray nosed ahead quickly in the fifth, breaking for a 1-0 lead when his shot ticked off the net tape, throwing off Djokovic, who missed a backhand and smiled a wry smile of disbelief, shaking his head. Murray walked to the changeover chomping on a white towel.

It was a 2-0 lead for Murray soon thereafter, as he pounded a 131 mph service winner and then used some terrific defense to stretch a point until Djokovic missed again. Murray screamed and pumped his arms, and the spectators responded with a roar. Murray broke again to go ahead 3-0, but he wasn't in the clear.

There still was the difficult matter of actually doing something he never had: win the last point of a Grand Slam tournament.

And, as Murray acknowledged later, he couldn't be absolutely certain he would this time.

"You're thinking: Are you going to be able to do this? This is going to be tough," said Murray, who now rises to No. 3 in the ATP rankings, behind Federer and Djokovic. "When you have been there many times and not done it, it is easy to doubt yourself."

When Djokovic, who had won 27 hard-court Grand Slam matches in a row, sent a forehand return long on the final point, Murray crouched and covered his mouth with both hands, as though even he could not believe this moment really arrived. The 25-year-old Scot took off his sneakers, grimacing with each step as he gingerly stepped across the court. Djokovic came around to offer congratulations and a warm embrace, while "Chariots of Fire" blared over the Arthur Ashe Stadium loudspeakers.

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