Two warriors. Four hours, 53 minutes. One prize.
If there was any doubt about who the best two players in the world are on a hard court at this moment, tonight’s U.S. Open Final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic pronounced a clear verdict (no offense to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer).
The longest U.S. Open final in history was not always a pretty affair, but it had everything—trench warfare, cat-and-mouse, streaks, ebbs and flows, swirling wind conditions, fist pumping, screaming and 10 SportsCenters worth of epic 30+ shot rallies.
In the end, only Andy Murray remained standing and, at last, he claimed his first Grand Slam title 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.
In many ways it was a confusing final full of dramatic momentum shifts. After an unbelievable first set to Murray, capped off by a 12-10 tiebreak, the Scot rocketed to a 4-0 second-set lead, breaking Djokovic’s serve twice in the process. Murray looked to be in complete control, determined to hit one more groundstroke than Djokovic on every single point.
Then the real Djokovic woke up.
With his back against the wall Djokovic began swinging more freely. Against all odds, he earned both breaks back and leveled the set at 5-5. All the momentum was going the Serb’s way. But, as so often happens in tennis when the finish line is in sight, Djokovic tightened up just enough to allow Murray to break serve and take the second set 7-5.
At this point the match looked over. For Djokovic to win, he would have to accomplish something that no man had accomplished in a U.S. Open Men’s Final since 1949—come back from two sets down.
Against a player of Murray’s caliber that seemed incredibly unlikely.
Still, Djokovic, the warrior that he is, fought on. Picking up where he left off in his second-set comeback, Djokovic remained the aggressor. He attacked the net more often and put tremendous pressure on Murray.
Murray, for his part, seemed a bit bewildered either from nerves or lack of concentration. Every time he threatened to break Djokovic’s serve, the Serb had an answer.
Suddenly the match was level at two sets apiece and the crowd was going berserk.
Murray, to his credit, remained focused at the start of the fifth set and managed to break Djokovic’s serve. The next several games featured incredibly high-quality tennis from both players. In the end, Murray seemed to have a little more left in the tank.
Djokovic’s legs abandoned him ever so slightly, causing his first-serve percentage to drop. Murray took full advantage, and closed out the final games without even a hint of nerves—an amazing accomplishment for a man on the verge of winning his first Grand Slam title.
What a year for Andy Murray.
His ascendance to greatness began nine months ago at the Australian Open where he battled Djokovic to five sets in a historic five-hour semifinal match. Although Murray lost that match, he proved that he could hang with the greatest in the world over the course of a Grand Slam five-setter.
The journey continued at Wimbledon where he reached the Finals and dominated Roger Federer in the first set before succumbing in four 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
At the Olympics only four weeks later, Murray avenged his loss to Federer on the exact same Centre Court at Wimbledon, winning the Gold Medal convincingly 6-2, 6-1, 6-4. Although the Olympic gold-medal match had the weight of a major, there still remained the business of winning tennis’ most cherished prize—a Grand Slam title.
Tonight, Andy Murray completed that journey and, in so doing, became the first British man to a win a Grand Slam title since Fred Perry in 1936. For Murray, the monkey is officially off his back.