NEW YORK (AP) - If it’s true, as they say, that the toughest Grand Slam title to win is your first, then Andy Murray was right to feel relief, above all, when he finally got No. 1 out of the way at the U.S. Open.
“I certainly was doubting myself a bit, and thinking about the match and how tough it was going to be, and whether I was going to be able to do it or not,” Murray said Tuesday, a day after beating defending champion Novak Djokovic over nearly five hours in the final at Flushing Meadows, “so I’m just glad that I finally managed to do it.”
As he spoke those words, Murray stared at his reflection in the shiny silver trophy he so longed for and now had earned, adding: “And I hope it’s not the only one.”
No reason to believe it will be.
Indeed, with his defensive and returning skills, and a new willingness to be aggressive with his forehand, Murray might very well be considered the man to beat when tennis returns to the Grand Slam scene at the Australian Open in January.
Until letting a two-set lead against Djokovic evaporate, then mustering all the gumption required to prevail in a fifth, Murray was 0-4 in Grand Slam finals. Only one other man in the Open era, which began in 1968, lost his first four major titles matches. That man, of course, is Lendl, who eventually figured out how win the big one and accumulated eight Grand Slam trophies of his own.
“He just said to me, when we spoke, `Just enjoy the match. It’s what you work all your life towards, so just enjoy it,’” Murray said. “And I was like, `Well, that’s exactly the problem. I’ve been working 10 years for this, and it’s a big moment for me, so I don’t know if I’m going to enjoy it.’ And then he was like, `Oh, why not? You’ve got to try and enjoy it.’ That was kind of how it went.”
Looking very much like any 25-year-old might on a day off, in dark jeans and a striped polo shirt, Murray chuckled while recounting that conversation, which offered a tiny taste of his dry wit.
He met with reporters Tuesday while sitting at a wooden dining room table in the Manhattan residence of British Consul-General Danny Lopez. A bagpiper greeted Murray’s entrance, a nod to his Scottish homeland. Standing near a lithograph of Queen Elizabeth II by Andy Warhol, Lopez presented Murray with a basket of Scottish treats, including bottles of Irn-Bru, a rust-colored carbonated fruit drink.
Murray clearly recognizes _ how could he not? _ and embraces the significance of his success in Britain, which last could proudly hail a male Grand Slam tennis champion in 1936, when Fred Perry won Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships. It’s been a summer of barrier-breaking by Murray, who was the first British man since Bunny Austin in 1938 to even be the runner-up at the All England Club (losing to Roger Federer), then won the singles gold medal at the London Olympics (beating Federer).
“Winning a Grand Slam’s been his goal and his dream since he was a very young kid playing tennis. And he’s come so close a number of times and not quite made it,” said Murray’s mother, Judy, who is Britain’s Fed Cup captain. “I think winning the Olympic gold gave him the belief that he could do it in a major final. And to see him manage to do it yesterday, after such a tough, brutal match against a great player like Djokovic, was just fantastic. … Hopefully, it will spur him on to more.”
This has not been the easiest era to come along in men’s tennis, of course. Federer owns a record 17 Grand Slam titles, Rafael Nadal owns 11, and Djokovic five. Those three guys combined to win 29 of the 30 major tournaments preceding this U.S. Open (Juan Martin del Potro’s 2009 victory in New York was the lone exception).
But now here comes Murray, long considered by his peers a sure-thing, champion-to-be who just hadn’t managed to figure it all out yet.