I sat down on my couch yesterday at 3:45 p.m., notepad in hand, ready to transcribe my thoughts for the 2012 U.S. Open Men’s Final. Little did I know, it would be five hours before Andy Murray earned his first major championship.
The 2012 U.S. Open may have had its annual share of twists, but even with the obligatory weather issues, the finals matchup was anything but surprising; Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are the two best hard-court players in the world, and both looked to be just that through the first six rounds.
Andy Murray defeated Tomas Berdych in the semifinals in a near-tornado. He said after the match that they were some of the worst conditions in which he has ever played, adding, “and I come from Scotland.”
But unlike Murray, who seemed to embrace the challenging weather in his semifinal matchup—he sacrificed pace for depth, gave himself plenty of room on passing shots and even broke out a stretch of serve-and-volley—Djokovic seemed disgusted with the environment. Had his match with David Ferrer not been postponed, you cannot help but wonder if Djokovic would have even made it to the finals.
It was more of the same through the opening set-and-a-half Monday afternoon. Murray seemed to say, “OK, it is what it is.” Djokovic appeared to ask, “Why, oh why?”
And we saw the results, especially early. Murray scampered across the baseline, refusing to plant his feet until the last possible moment. Djokovic took three steps to track down the balls and set himself before the shots advanced past his service line. It’s a tennis faux pas in any scenario, but particularly troubling on windy outings.
Yet he somehow kept it close. At the end of the 12th game of the first set, I wrote: "If Djokovic manages to win match, it is because he is just better—can’t believe he’s still in this set."
After Murray won a grueling tiebreaker to cap of a grueling opening set of 30-ball rallies and extraordinary defense, he kept things as they were into the ninth game of the second set.
Huge Sequence No. 1
Up 5-3 and serving to take a 2-0 lead in the match, Murray and Djokovic engaged in a brief but critical game that served as a complete juxtaposition of the two players’ mental fortitude up to that precise moment of their respective careers.
Murray looked to be in complete control, but Djokovic, the champion who had to believe that, regardless of the score, he had every possible edge, refused to let Murray’s victory come easily. He broke the Brit and made everyone watching ask themselves, “Now what?”
I have always criticized those who label Andy Murray as an underachiever or a choke artist. However, losing the second set and stumbling to yet another major runner-up, with all his success over the first 21 games, would have been a very real letdown.
Two years ago, the result of the ninth game of the second set could have been a turning point for the entire match, crushing Andy Murray’s psyche and bringing about a four-set Djokovic victory.
But the 2012 Andy Murray refused to crumble, and, in doing so, he forever expunged questions about his desire. He held serve at 5-5 and broke Djokovic to take the two-set lead.
Based on the way Djokovic played up to the final, I predicted that he would win in three sets, although this did not account for the wind factor. So, seeing him cruise through the third and fourth sets left me completely unsurprised, especially since the gusts died down a bit.
Which brings me to the fifth.
At this point, Djokovic had to be considered the favorite. It would have been a just assumption to think the Serb would come out firing. The comeback won him crowd support. His experience trumped that of Murray. Most importantly, he looked like his quarterfinal self.
Apparently, nobody told this to Andy Murray. It was Murray who started aggressively, and it was Murray who seemed to play like an unflappable champion, going up an early double break.
Of course, Murray couldn’t make it easy.
Much like he did in the second set, Murray failed to hold serve with an opportunity to very nearly ice it. The set got closer (3-1) and then closer again in a brutal fifth game (3-2).
And then, Murray gave us the game of his career.
Huge Sequence No. 2
People are going to talk about the 54-ball rally. We will all remember the exceptional instances in which Murray was reduced to a brick wall, returning smash after smash. The biggest moment, though, came in a game that, in terms of the length of this match, was over in a blink.
Serving at 3-2, Murray won four quick service points. In doing so, he threw all the pressure back on Djokovic. Four bang-bang points did nothing to alleviate the fatigue from his previous deuce battle of a service game.
At that moment, it was over.
Djokovic was broken once again. He needed medical assistance for cramps heading into the final game, but even Djokovic must have known the leg rubdown was only delaying the inevitable. Murray was still fresh. After all the energy it took Djokovic to get the match to a fifth set, the virtually consecutive service games did him in.
Up 5-2 and serving for the match, Murray would not let this one get away, and Djokovic was too exhausted to take it.