Murray holds off Djokovic for first Grand Slam title
NEW YORK His considerable lead, and a chance at history, slipping away, Andy Murray dug deep for stamina and mental strength, outlasting Novak Djokovic in a thrilling five-set, nearly five-hour U.S. Open final Monday.
It had been 76 years since a British man won a Grand Slam singles championship and, at least for Murray, it was well worth the wait.
Ending a nation's long drought, and snapping his own four-final skid in majors, Murray finally pulled through with everything at stake on a Grand Slam stage, shrugging off defending champion Djokovic's comeback bid to win, 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.
"Relief is probably the best word I would use to describe how I'm feeling just now," Murray said, adding: "You do think: Is it ever going to happen?"
Yes, Murray already had showed he could come up big by winning the gold medal in front of a home crowd at the London Olympics last month. But this was different. This was a Grand Slam tournament, the standard universally used to measure tennis greatness—and the 287th since Britain's Fred Perry won the 1936 U.S. Championships, as the event was known back then.
"He deserved to win this Grand Slam more than anybody," Djokovic said of Murray, who will rise to No. 3 in the rankings behind No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Djokovic.
Murray vs. Djokovic was a test of will as much as skill, lasting 4 hours, 54 minutes, tying the record for longest U.S. Open final. The first-set tiebreaker's 22 points set a tournament mark. The crowd gave a standing ovation to salute one majestic, 30-stroke point in the fourth set that ended with Murray's forehand winner.
"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."
But as the finish approached, Djokovic—who had won eight consecutive five-set matches—was the one looking fragile, trying to catch breathers and doing deep knee bends at the baseline to stretch his aching groin 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.
When Djokovic sent a forehand long on the final point, Murray crouched and covered his mouth with both hands, as though even he could not believe this moment had actually 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.
Murray was one of only two men in the professional era, which began in 1968, to have lost his first four Grand Slam finals—vs. Djokovic in the 2011 Australian Open, and against Federer at the 2008 U.S. Open, 2010 Australian Open and this year's Wimbledon.
The other guy who began 0-4? Ivan Lendl, who just so happens to be Murray's coach.
Djokovic was bidding for his sixth major trophy, fifth in the past two seasons. He had won 27 Grand Slam hard-court matches in a row.
Murray and Djokovic were born a week apart in May 1987, and they've known, and competed against, each other since they were about 11.
Before Saturday's semifinals in New York, they shared a computer and sat together to watch online as Murray's Scotland and Djokovic's Serbia played to a 0-0 draw in a qualifying match for soccer's World Cup.
"We both did a lot of running. It was unfortunate really to not be able to come up with big shots at the right time. It forced me to go for winners or mistakes," Djokovic said. "Unfortunately I did a lot of mistakes."
He totaled 65 unforced errors to Murray's 56; they combined for 49 more unforced errors than winners. That said, there probably should have a statistic to count wind-forced errors.
Djokovic, though, 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.
"If I had lost this one from two sets up," Murray said, "that would have been a tough one to take."
Federer, Djokovic and Nadal—who missed the U.S. Open with a left knee injury—had won 29 of the previous 30 major tournaments.
Now Murray joins the Grand Slam club.
"I think everybody's in kind of shock," Murray said, "that this happened."