(Reuters) – Andy Murray wiped out 77 years of pain and hurt as he became the first British man since 1936 to win the men’s title at Wimbledon with a 6-4 7-5 6-4 victory over world number one Novak Djokovic on Sunday.
Just why Britain had to wait almost eight decades to witness such scenes of unbridled patriotic joy at the spiritual home of lawn tennis was summed up by an astonishing final game when Murray won and lost three match points, leaving 15,000 fans gasping in disbelief.
The pulses were racing even faster as Djokovic displayed his own survival instincts to earn three break points before a wondrous volley winner gave Murray another championship point.
This time Djokovic could not deny him and when the Serb dragged a backhand into the net after yet another lengthy exchange, 60 million Britons leapt up and Murray tossed his racket to the famous turf.
“That was one of the toughest moments, today was unbelievably tough match,” Murray said after fulfilling a lifelong dream of holding aloft the gilded Challenge Cup.
“I don’t know how I came through the final three points, I’m so glad to do it.
“I understand how much everyone wanted to see British winner at Wimbledon and I hope everyone enjoyed it.”
A gracious Djokovic added: “Congratulations to Andy you absolutely deserved it, you played incredibly.
“I know what it means to you guys in the whole country so well done. It is a great achievement. I gave it my all and it was an honour to be in this match, in this final.”
Murray took three hours and nine minutes to finally lay Fred Perry’s ghost at 5.24 local time on Sunday.
On the hottest day of the year in Britain, with the mercury soaring toward 30 degrees Celsius, the world’s two best players produced scorching sinew-stretching action from the start and the first three games alone lasted 20 minutes.
The opening salvo of the Centre Court clash lasted 20 strokes as Murray went up 0-40 on the Serb’s serve but Djokovic produced staunch defence to stave off his opponent’s attacks.
The duo did trade breaks in the third and fourth games, with each Murray winner being greeted by a chorus of 15,000 roars.
Second seed Murray got another chance to break to love in the seventh game and this time he pounced as the 2011 champion surrendered his serve by slapping a backhand into the net.
A set that initially looked like lasting forever ended exactly on the hour mark as Djokovic whipped a service return wide to give Murray, runner-up to Roger Federer last year, the one-set cushion.
The battle between the two players who were born seven days apart in 1987 intensified in the second set as they went toe-to-toe from the baseline with 25-shot rallies being par for the course.
Djokovic, who survived a four hour 43 minute semi-final epic against Juan Martin Del Potro two days ago, showed his super-human ability to recover quickly as he ran down everything Murray could throw at him.
The Serb rattled Murray by going for the lines and broke for a 3-1 lead when Olympic and U.S. Open champion Murray flicked a forehand into the net.
Even when Djokovic slipped and skidded flat on to his stomach while trying to chase down a Murray winner, the six-times grand slam champion appeared unfazed as he quickly got back on to his feet to extend his lead to 4-1.
But Murray, who trains in the intense Miami heat even on Christmas Day, showed off his iron-man conditioning as he stormed back to level at 4-4, a Djokovic double fault on break point down handing him the break back in the seventh game.
While the cheering crowd, which included British Prime Minister David Cameron, got behind a pumped up Murray, Djokovic simply exploded in anger in the 11th game.
Convinced that Murray had gone long mid-rally at 15-15, he screamed at umpire Mohamed Lahyani “Whyyyyyyyyyyyy? What’s going on?” as he gesticulated wildly to show what he thought the linesman had failed to see.
Murray ignored the uproar to break the fuming Serb and soon had the fans roaring when he wrapped up the 69-minute second set with a 125mph thunderbolt ace.
Murray proved that he was seeing the ball like a football as broke in the opening game of the third set, successfully challenging Hawkeye to show that Djokovic’s backhand on breakpoint had in fact dropped long.
After going ahead 2-0, Murray’s mind seemed to go on a walkabout as Djokovic won four games on the trot.
But just when thoughts of last September’s U.S. Open final started flashing though the mind of everyone packed on to Centre Court, when Djokovic rallied to win the third and fourth sets, Murray made sure that there would be no repeat.