Andy Murray ended his Grand Slam title wait when he defeated World No. 2 Novak Djokovic in a tightly contested final to win the US Open title and end Britain's long wait for another Grand Slam winner.
Murray had lost his first four Grand Slam finals and was staring the doldrums in the face when out of nowhere he stormed to Olympic gold, defeating Roger Federer and Djokovic on the way.
That victory seemed to be the start of a new, focused Murray and we looked forward to his performances at the Rogers Cup and the Cincinnati Masters. However, neither lived up to our expectations and it seemed as if his Olympic victory was going to confirm most people's fears—fears that he was one of those guys who won everything in the game but slam titles.
Looking back now, the early part of 2012 can be seen as a period of molding for Murray. In the same way losing to Djokovic in epic circumstances at the Australian Open this year changed Rafael Nadal, Murray was changed, too, by his loss to Djokovic. In all the semis and finals he'd lost, he'd never pushed himself to his limit, let alone his opponent. However, that semifinal loss to Djokovic earlier this year set the tone for the rest of his year.
That loss helped him realize that there was a level of tennis purity he was yet to attain and a standard of tennis that he couldn't fall below. While in the past, Murray had built himself physically and mentally, there had never been a picture in his head of what exactly he was aiming for. That loss, however, painted a picture and gave him an aim. The ensuing final between Nadal and Djokovic must have done likewise, too.
It wasn't just about being able to maintain one's form and cadence when the clock hit the fifth or sixth hour, it was a lesson on how to maintain one's mental strength, save one's physical strength and use the two interchangeably. It was a lesson that required accepting that one wasn't adequate enough and improvements were needed.
And that he has won one of these things is proof that those improvements were made—proof that he was humble and diligent enough to work despite the setbacks, disappointments and criticisms. Proof that he was champion material. He is champion material now.
So what are the lessons and significances stemming from Murray's win?
1. Attack is the best form of defense. Murray had been criticized in the past for the negativity in his play, but he got his forehand (his weaker stroke) motoring and rarely made a real unforced error off that wing.
2. Djokovic's biggest weapon is his opportunism—he had no business winning the third set, let alone the fourth, but he did because he capitalized on Murray's emotional lull after the first two sets. In other words, it seems like Djokovic can only defeat the other members of the big four if they hand the momentum and match to him. His game is too defensive to ever let him control the match from the outset.
3. While Djokovic and Murray are extremely talented and both play a similar game based on the backhand with the forehand used as an auxiliary weapon, Murray is quite clearly the better player. Yes, Djokovic matured earlier but Murray's tennis is smart, cleaner and more technically sound i.e. Djokovic depends more on his physicality than his tennis, which, going by the idea that you play to your strengths, would indicate that his tennis is somewhat lacking.
1. Nadal drops to No. 4 in the rankings while Federer's No. 1 appears safe.
2. The Big Four is finally official with all four members having won a slam and all four slams in 2012 being held by them.
3. Great Britain has a Grand Slam champion again.