Andy Murray is three sets away from being crowned the "Prince of Wimbledon."
In Friday evening's semifinal on Centre Court, Murray took out the last remaining Cinderella of the men’s tournament, 22-year-old Pole Jerzy Janowicz, 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3. He was cheered on raucously by his legions of fans, including Pippa Middleton, Jude Law and Anna Wintour.
If Murray wins just one more match, the raucous support might turn into a rave—by British standards, at least.
Murray will meet familiar foe Novak Djokovic in the final. Djokovic leads their head-to-head matches 11-7, but Murray won their only meeting on grass, here at the Olympics just last year.
If there was any doubt before this tournament, this meeting—their third in the last four major finals— proves that this is Murray and Djokovic's tour right now.
But while Djokovic is the No. 1 player in the world and the favorite to win the match, make no mistake about it, Murray is the focal point.
If you haven't heard, he is trying to be the first male British representative in 77 years to win Wimbledon.
Very few Brits were even alive in 1936 when Fred Perry took the title, but that doesn’t mean that Perry isn’t in the forefront of their minds. Murray, who is Scottish but formally represents Great Britain, was asked after his semifinal what he thought the 10-time major champion Perry would say to him if he were alive today.
Murray, who used to wear the Fred Perry clothing line before switching to the more high-profile Adidas, showed both his self-deprecating humor and sharp wit when answering the question.
Great zinger from Murray in press. Asked what Fred Perry might ask him, "Why aren't you wearing my kit?" Defense to offense. #wimbledon— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) July 5, 2013
These days, Murray is more relaxed with himself and the public than he ever has been before. He's warm, down-to-earth and not afraid to occasionally open up. It’s a drastic paradigm shift from the foul-mouthed, aloof “me vs. the world” persona that he used to embody.
Of course, it's easier for Murray to let his guard down now that he's proven himself.
Coming into Wimbledon in 2012, things were very different. He hadn't made a Grand Slam final in the last five majors, and there were serious doubts as to whether he would ever live up to his great potential. As Djokovic racked up his legendary load of titles, and Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer continued to seize their chances, it seemed as if Murray was regressing.
It was an enormous relief when Murray made it to his maiden Wimbledon final last year, but there was still a sense of doubt and doom about the match. He was playing the "God of Grass," Federer. He was way too tense and unsure of himself. There was simply too much pressure.
But then, something special happened. He lost the match, but afterward, in front of everyone, he cried. “I’m getting closer,” his voice cracked as he tried—and failed—to keep it together.
In that moment, everything changed. Suddenly, a nation wasn’t just weeping because of him, they were weeping with him. He was letting them in, maturing in front of their very eyes.
They were the tears that endeared him to the world, and they seemed to catapult him to greatness.
In the last year, Murray has made four of the last five Grand Slam finals, won an Olympic gold medal and captured his maiden Slam title at the U.S. Open. He is an underachiever no more.
Two weeks ago, he marched into The Championships as the No. 2 player in the world and with a no-more-excuses swagger about him. While it hasn't always been smooth sailing throughout the fortnight, he's made it to the final again.
This time, there's nothing relieving about it. He’s supposed to be there.
#Murray: "Think I'll be in a better place mentally. Hope so because I've been there before. Hope I'd be a little calmer going into Sunday."— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 5, 2013
Though the British crowd has enjoyed Murray's successes over the past year, they want him to win at home. With them. They want to party on Mount Murray, close down the British pubs and make Monday a holiday. They want to smile with him as he lifts that trophy over his head, and dance with him at the Wimbledon ball. He's their champion, and they want to be a part of it.
After all, 77 years is an excruciatingly long time to wait.
No matter what, there will be a lot of tears shed in Great Britain on Sunday. It's up to Murray to determine the kind.