WIMBLEDON - The tears came quickly. Joyful ones. Euphoric ones. Ones that said here, in this historic place of grass, this monument to tennis greats that sits in the south west part of the city and is split into a village and town, one of their own had brought a sense of incredible pride to the people of Great Britain.
“This tells the story, doesn’t it?” she asked as thousands stood and cheered and waved flags both big and small while shaking center court to its foundation. “We’re such a tiny country and this means so much. It’s so important for this to happen. I’m an emotional wreck. “I really need some tea and milk and sugar.”
I’m guessing all of Britain celebrated Sunday evening.
I’m guessing most chose something a bit stronger than tea and milk and sugar.
Emma is a 23-year old student from London, but she could have been any of the British fans crammed into the Wimbledon grounds to watch Andy Murray, holding Union Jacks in one hand and beers in the other and a certain Scotsman with a racket in their hearts.
Wimbledon is big on strawberries and cream. On Sunday, it was huge on patriotism.
Murray didn’t exorcise the ghost that is Fred Perry, didn’t become the first Brit to win Wimbledon since 1936, didn’t bow to the queen and hold and kiss a silver cup.
He instead grasped and bit into a round gold medal.
It’s one heck of a consolation prize.
Murray beat Roger Federer 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in the Olympics men’s singles final four weeks to the day from losing the Wimbledon championship to the Swiss star. That afternoon, Britain shed a different type of tear as Murray lost the fourth Grand Slam final he has made.
I didn’t know it would be treated as this big a deal Sunday, didn’t realize the passion that would accompany such a match. A friend asked the other day if Murray won, would it be considered as big a moment in Great Britain compared to him ever capturing Wimbledon. I laughed, proclaiming this wouldn’t be in the same zip code. I was wrong. It’s at least within a few towns.
It’s not Wimbledon. Perry won three consecutive championships from 1934-36 and this nation of 62 million has been searching for another since. Roger Taylor was the best hope in 1970s. Tim Henman in the 1990s. The list isn’t all that long.
“This has been the best week of my tennis career by a mile,” Murray said. “This is the best way back possible from the Wimbledon final. I’ll never forget this. “During Wimbledon, the pressure is high. You know, there’s a lot of focus just on you. When you’re playing in an Olympics, that’s not the case. I don’t know whether one is harder or easier than the other. When you get out on the court, you just got to try to do your job the best you can. But it’s different.”
You wouldn’t have known it Sunday, when the rhythmic chants of, “Andy!” clap-clap-clap, “Andy!” clap-clap-clap, “Andy!” clap-clap clap, began moments after the favored son wearing blue was introduced.
It wasn’t all that close, either. This was the Murray who won the first set from Federer in the Wimbledon final and outplayed his opponent for much of the second before rains came and the roof was closed and momentum shifted.
The only thing shifting Sunday was center court as the exuberant crowd rocked it one way and the other.
Said one fan before the match: “Murray is the most tragic serial loser around here. When he wins, he’s British. When he loses, he’s Scottish. It’s a running joke. The English are great at claiming you whenever you’re willing. But if he loses today, he’ll be Scottish. Right now, he’s the Great British Hope. If he loses, he’ll be the heart-broken Scot.”
A few hours later, Murray fired an ace on match point and immediately dropped to his knees and covered his face. The place exploded.
He shook hands with Federer, ran across the court and climbed up into the stands to embrace his family. A tidal wave of Union Jacks spread across the stadium and the theme music from “Chariots of Fire,” began to play. Emma, a 23-year-old student from London, who really could have been anyone at that precise moment, began to cry tears that wouldn’t stop.
Andy Murray was about as British as he could be on this day.
And his country couldn’t have been prouder.
Ed Graney is a sports columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He also is writing an Olympics blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/graney Follow him on Twitter @edgraney He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org