FRONDORF: Murray makes it a “Big Four”

I didn’t expect to write a follow-up column on the U.S. Open. Andy Murray has been on a roll, sure, but with the world’s best at Arthur Ashe, I didn’t expect him to make it all the way to the final.

Instead, we got a final and much more: Andy Murray managed to hold off Novak Djokovic in a five-set classic to earn his first Grand Slam title. In today’s tennis world, only two things are clear: Serena Williams is the queen of women’s tennis, and in the world of men’s tennis, it’s anyone’s game now.

I would like to think that I willed Murray to victory with my presence at the Open and my lifelong fandom (which began in July). But, to be honest, I totally forgot that the final was taking place Monday evening. Rain pushed back the men’s and women’s finals (what a surprise), so it took someone shouting into a megaphone near Silliman and TD to remind me to tune in. “The U.S. Open final is on … RIGHT NOW.” Thanks, megaphone man.

Seriously, I appreciated the help, because I would have missed a match that was a classic right from the start. Djokovic and Murray immediately entered into a series of grueling games in the first set that tested their physical resolve and patience. Murray broke early; then Djokovic broke right back. Once the two reached a nerve-racking first set tiebreaker that ended 12–10 in favor of the Scot, I had a feeling that this final might go the distance.

And it did: five sets in four hours, 54 minutes. That is a tie for the longest final in U.S. Open history. Even the points were long — one rally in the first set continued for 55 strokes. Murray looked like he might take it in straight sets after a breakout effort in the second, but Djokovic was not planning on going home early. Strong third and fourth sets tied up the match 2–2, and Djokovic seemed to have the advantage.

But in the end, Novak did not have enough to close it out in the last set. He was clearly bothered by leg pain and Murray went up 5–2, leading to a final game that was bizarrely anticlimactic. Before play resumed with Murray having the chance to serve for the championship, the Djoker called a trainer over to his chair, which turned into a lengthy, agonizing break during which Andy anxiously paced around the court. A bit like “icing the kicker,” as the U.S. Open commentators explained.

Once Murray actually had the chance to serve, no point was certain. Murray won an incredibly close challenge to make it 30–0 on an ace. Then Djokovic’s return appeared slightly long on the following point. No one really knew. Murray looked around, bewildered, thinking a line judge had called the ball out. With no response from the chair umpire, he begrudgingly issued a challenge — and won again. 40–0, triple championship point. Even then, Murray didn’t exactly have his one shining moment. He did not immediately recognize that Djokovic’s return was long on 40–15. For a brief second, the viewers at home knew Murray had won, but the crowd — and Murray — did not.

When realization set in, Murray sunk to his knees, hands covering his face. Both competitors slowly hobbled around the court, exhausted and depleted by nearly five hours of world-class championship tennis. There was no outward exuberance and joy, at least not at first — not what we expect from Murray. In fact, he noticeably limped off the court with tournament officials before hobbling back to grab something out of his bag as cameras struggled to keep up. Not my definition of a championship celebration.

Perhaps it was the appropriate reaction. After going 0-for-4 in Grand Slam finals, Andy Murray’s quest neared desperation. So when he finally pulled it off, he understandably could not believe it. It’s been a unbelievable “summer of sport” for Andy, as the British would say — so many years of losses, a crushing Wimbledon defeat, and now an Olympic gold and Grand Slam title within six weeks. He is certainty left an indelible mark on the tennis world, and the Big Three better be on guard. Take note, Rafa, Roger, and Novak: I don’t think Andy’s backing down anytime soon.

Remember Murray’s post-Wimbledon apology? How he pleaded, “I am getting closer?” Well, that was quick.

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