By Phil Sheridan The Philadelphia Inquirer
LONDON — The match was tied early in the first set when a voice behind Roger Federer rang out with the words most of the fans at Centre Court were thinking.
“Come on! Let ‘im win, Roger!”
Andy Murray — the ’im the fan was referring to — proceeded to win the next nine games and the Olympic gold medal in straight sets. The player with the phrase “never won a Grand Slam event” appended to his name carved out a unique slam of his own on a splendid Sunday afternoon: He won gold, he won it for Great Britain at the London Olympics, he won it at Wimbledon, and he defeated the mighty Federer.
“That is No. 1 for me, the biggest win of my life,” an exuberant Murray said. “It is a sweet feeling, incredible.”
Murray’s win, just four weeks after he lost the Wimbledon final on the same court to the same opponent, became another highlight in a golden weekend for the hosts of these Olympics. Fans strolling the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club grounds carried copies of the Sunday Sun. The tabloid’s headline: The Six Pack, with photos of Saturday’s British champions in track, rowing, and cycling.
“That atmosphere was unbelievable,” Murray said. “I watched the athletics last night, it was just amazing. The way Mo Farah won (the 10,000 meters) — I mean, I do 400-meter repetitions in my training. When I’m completely fresh, I can run it in 57 seconds, and his last lap after 9,600 meters was 53 seconds. It gave me a boost. The momentum the team has had the last couple of days, I didn’t expect that.”
Federer has beaten Murray in three Grand Slam finals. He has beaten him at Wimbledon. But he could not beat him here in the middle of the Great British Gold Rush.
“I’ve had a lot of tough losses in my career,” Murray said. “This is the best way to come back from the Wimbledon final. I’ll never forget it.”
By no means did Federer heed the fan’s admonition and let Murray win. Federer surely wanted to win just the second gold medal for Switzerland in these Olympics. Though his third-set effort might have gotten booed over at the badminton venue, the first two sets were battles. Murray earned victory in both with dazzling shot placement and an unshakable aura of calm.
“I didn’t feel nervous really at all,” Murray said, “apart from at the beginning of the match.”
His confidence showed in daring passing shots when Federer charged the net. Murray kicked up more chalk dust than a gymnast on the high bar.
“That’s the best part of his game,” Federer said. “If he doesn’t do those passing shots, he’s not going to win gold.”
Murray was leading, 3-2, in the first set when the match really turned. Federer was serving. Murray won the first point. The second serve led to a long rally, and Murray took the point. As the mostly pro-Murray crowd chanted “Andy, Andy” between points, Federer battled back. Four deuces later, Murray had the advantage. Federer made an unforced error into the net and Murray had his first service break.
“He never looked back,” Federer said. “(It’s) his credit for getting in the lead and using the crowd. He did an unbelievable job.”
Murray broke Federer’s serve four consecutive times, while holding his own each time. Murray won the first set, 6-2. He cruised through the second, 6-1. After he broke Federer’s serve to take a 3-2 lead in the final set, the outcome seemed assured. It was just a matter of time and style.
Murray provided the style. Serving with a 5-4 lead, he aced Federer for the final two points of the match.
“(The crowd) helped me get a few extra miles an hour the last couple of serves,” Murray said.
The crowd added a few decibels with each point, exploding into a roar as Murray celebrated the final ace. Then he sprinted toward the corner of the court, past the startled line judges, and climbed through the stands toward his family.
Federer exited quickly, leaving center stage at Centre Court to Murray. The seven-time Wimbledon champion was as gracious in defeat as he ever is in victory.
“Don’t feel too bad for me,” Federer said. “I felt like I won my silver, I didn’t lose it. So I feel really happy. I was very happy for him. It’s a long time coming for him, and he did great.”
And he did it for Great Britain, adding an unexpected exclamation point to a remarkable weekend for the home team.