© Ella Ling

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Five thoughts after Murray wins his first grand slam

   
Five thoughts after Andy Murray defeated Novak Djokovic in five sets to win the US Open: 
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No longer is Fred Perry the Brylcreemed ghost who haunts British tennis. At the end of five pulsating, brutal sets (and almost five hours) in New York City, Fred Perry went back to just being a statue in the Wimbledon grounds; a sports label for mods; a great from tennis’s sepia years. Djokovic didn’t like the wind. He also didn’t like Murray’s tennis. Or spirit. Murray is – and here’s a sentence that’s fun to type – Britain’s first male singles grand slam champion since Perry won the US Open in 1936. Had he lost, Murray would have become the first man of the professional era to lose his first five appearances in grand slam finals (Fred Stolle also lost his first five but that was when tennis was still amateur). But he won, and so he emulated his coach Ivan Lendl by winning his slam at his fifth opportunity. The Olympics and then this. So history was made in New York: Lendl had promised that, if Murray was the champion, he would venture into Manhattan for the first time in years.
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Murray’s story has always been about the struggle, so why was this going to be any different? There has never been a harder era in which to win grand slams. And this was the hardest of grand slam finals. Has anyone previously been through so much in one match to score a first major? Djokovic had momentum when the match went into a final set. He was attempting to become the first man since 1949 – when Pancho Gonzalez beat Ted Schroeder – to recover from two sets down to win a US Open final. He failed.
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Daylight wouldn’t have done this justice; this deserved to finish under the showbusiness lights of the Arthur Ashe Stadium. Djokovic and Murray, rivals since they were 12-year-old juniors, put together some extraordinary rallies, which had the crowd on their feet and the players’ hearts, legs and lungs screaming out for respite. Yes, Rafael Nadal didn’t make the trip to New York because of his knee pain, and Roger Federer went no further than the quarters, and this was the time since the 2004 French Open that neither was in the semi-finals. Murray might have found life a little easier against Federer or Nadal. To win his first slam, Murray had to defeat an opponent who came into the final having won his previous 27 hard-court matches at the slams.
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One man had legs made of jelly, the other legs made of rubber. Djokovic was the rubber man of Flushing. In the first couple of sets, Djokovic went splat so often that CBS, the host broadcaster, started to keep count of ‘knock-downs’. When was the last time that Djokovic, who is known for his excellent movement on hard courts, looked so unsure of his footing on the surface? But he was soon back to his good old, athletic, rubbery self. Attention shifted to Murray’s legs. In the third set he screamed at himself: “My f—— legs feel like jelly right now.” But Murray regrouped.
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The tape of Murray and Djokovic’s first-set tiebreaker is going to get the television broadcasters through a few rain delays in years to come. Murray, having trailed 2-5, had set points at 6-5, 7-6, 8-7, 9-8 and 10-9. He took the set with his sixth chance when Djokovic’s service return went long. The tiebreak alone had taken 24 minutes. Little wonder that James Bond (Sir Sean Connery) needed a break after that. But did you seriously imagine, even when Murray led by a set and 4-0 in the second, that this match was ever going to be easy? That was to ignore Murray’s talent for drama, and Djokovic’s, well, talent. Djokovic got back into this, breaking Murray when the Scot was serving for the set at 5-4. Had this gone into another tiebreak – Djokovic was broken when he served at 5-6, after a game which included a big mistake with an overhead – you have to think that Bond would once more sloped out for a few minutes. The angst continued for three more sets.