As my wife can testify, I’ve consumed massive quantities of tennis these past two weeks during the 2012 U.S. Open. So much, in fact, that I’ve had loose volleys in my hair, top spin forehands stuck between my teeth, massive overheads clinging to my thighs, second serves out wide on the bottom of my shoe, rain delays in my back pocket, backhands down the line puffing out in my exhalations. You get the point. Last night’s men’s final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic was a war of attrition, both physical and mental, to match any grand slam final I’ve seen. In terms of sheer energy and will expelled by the players, it’s up there with the 2008 Wimbledon Final and this years’s 2012 Australian Open Final. The two players punished each other, a flinching contest on live television. Though, as is often true in tennis, it was a mental battle above all. The conditions were absurd. Cool and with gusting winds that found both players serving cautiously and measuring their ground strokes like level tea spoons into cake batter. Even still, shots were frequently Mary Poppinsed over the baseline, or coasted out wide, seeming to lift off like they’d sprouted wings. The match went to the player that was able to battle and then harness his own frustration, doubt, and will the most successfully, Scotland’s Andy Murray, making it not only Murray’s first grand slam victory (although he did win the gold medal at this summer’s London games), but making him the first Brit to win a major tennis tournament since the age of Napoleon. Okay, not quite, but close. It was the match of the tournament. A fitting capstone to a triumphant two weeks of tennis in New York City.
As thrilling as the match was, it was Murray’s reaction to FINALLY winning a grand slam that sticks in my mind a day later. It was, in a word, muted. I’ve watched me some tennis over the years and I’ve never seen a tennis player celebrate a major victory will less overt fanfare. I’m sure that Murray was thrilled–you’d have to be a robot not to be, and we know Murray’s not a robot because a robot would never have hair that bad–but it was kind of hard to perceive. He more so seemed caught in a web of dazed relief, as if viewing his victory through a funhouse mirror. Or like he was afraid he’d slipped into a dream state and at any moment would wake with a runner-up trophy in his hand. Now, he’d just played five hours of brutal tennis against the best returner of his generation and was cramping visibly, so perhaps his body simply denied him the usual catharsis that we’re used to seeing, that we associate with those triumphant moments. But even later at his post match press conference, if not for the giant silver trophy to his left, Murray almost looked like he’d just lost the match. During the interview, he admitted that the dominant emotion he was experiencing was relief, citing the difficult conditions and the length of the long and grueling match. He spoke about how the reality of it hadn’t yet sunk in, and how perhaps he was taking a cue from the perpetually staid demeanor of his new coach, Ivan Landl. My favorite moment was when a reporter asked if he’d felt any exaltation since the victory, to which Murray replied, “I don’t know what that means.” It was kind of a funny moment–a simple break down in vocabulary–but I like to pretend that he knew exactly what it meant and that he meant he just didn’t have access to that particular emotion. As if exaltation was a place he wasn’t sure how one would get to, like say, Jupiter.
Regardless, my heart went out to the Scot. Once the constant bridesmaid, he is runner up no more and though I enjoy the artistry of Serbian wonder boy Novak Djokovic, who is about as fun to watch as a tennis player gets, I was thrilled to see Murray pull it off. Way to go Andy. Now go celebrate. Kiss your lovely girlfriend. Fill that massive trophy with Dom and drink heavily. And smile, goddammit.