We Once Found Him Flawed

Wimbledon, Final

(2) Murray d. (1) Djokovic, 6/4 7/5 6/4

Andy Murray has defeated Novak Djokovic in straight sets to claim the 2013 edition of Wimbledon, concluding a stretch of nearly eight decades in which the British furiously awaited their next local champion, and a slightly shorter period in which the rest of the world wished they’d be quieter about it. Now everyone is happy. Actually, in order to know happiness, all you had to do was look at Murray’s face after he won. His joy, for a rarity, was unrestrained and uncomplicated. Clive Brunskill/Getty Images EuropeAfter he’d won the US Open last year his primary reaction had looked like relief, quickly supplanted by an urgent need to locate his watch. After Sunday’s win it was unfractured bliss.

Excepting perhaps the victor himself, no one seems happier than the English press. The Daily Mail, as ever the Platonic Ideal of reticence, devoted the first ten pages of its Monday edition to the new Wimbledon champion. After the Australian Open final, the tabloids’ strategy had been to elevate Djokovic to stratospheric heights of mastery, so that Murray, merely by staying with him for a time, might thus be elevated in turn. It turns out this concept works even better when Murray wins: Djokovic is still gliding about up with the weather balloons, while Murray has soared past him into orbit.

The English press had apparently failed to heed Murray’s pre-tournament plea to keep expectations to a mild frenzy, given that he didn’t expect to do very well. It was wrong to call him the favourite. Of course, no one bought it. There are previously undiscovered colonies of lemurs in Madagascar that could see this for the futile attempt to deflect attention that it was. (They’ve since been located by their derisive snorts, which they couldn’t contain.)

As to the match itself, there’s little to be said, although to really capture the sense of gradual and repetitious unfolding, that little would need to be said in Entish, a language in which I am unfortunately not fluent. It was over in straight sets, and while straight sets can sometimes be deceptively skewed, these were mostly just very long. The first five games took an even thirty minutes, although it felt quite a lot longer, partially because the quality was exceptionally low. It looked rather like the women’s final might have looked, had Marion Bartoli been afflicted by the same voodoo curse that had befallen Sabine Lisicki, had the Frenchwoman lost her mind rather than playing out of it. Both men were bad, and often at the same time. Through the early going, too many of the points were only won because someone had to.

Thankfully they lifted, although they never ascended far beyond the foothills, and frequently tumbled back down again, Djokovic especially, and often literally. Both regularly put together far finer matches against other players, but only occasionally against each other. In general this match-up is defined by similarities rather than contrasts, and their immense defensive skills mean points can go on forever. Cognisant of this fact, it was surprisingly Djokovic who cracked first, and took to rushing the net, with mixed results. Or perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising.

Back in January, Jim Courier remarked that the Australian Open final had Roger Federer’s fingerprints all over it, in that by stretching the Murray to five sets in the preceding semifinal he had ensured the Scot would be fatally wearied in the final. It would only be fair to concede that today’s Wimbledon final bore the indelible hoof-prints of Juan Martin del Potro. Djokovic wasn’t at his best, which is only remarkable because he so often is. Nonetheless, not even his mighty powers of recovery could bring him all the way back from the longest semifinal in tournament history. This isn’t to say that a more rested version of himself would have won, but I suspect he might have grabbed a set. Even bothered and flat, Djokovic did threaten to take the second or third sets, having moved ahead by a break in both. Alas for him, and pleasantly for the locals, it never stuck. Murray, in each case, was simply too good, and inexorable when it mattered.

Quite aside from his body, or perhaps entirely because of it, the world number one was still beset by the same issues as in the round before, particularly problems with his footing and the exciting new inability to launch his backhand up the line with any authority or certainty. You may recall that this shot also deserted him in his Roland Garros semifinal against Rafael Nadal. Its absence severely limits his capacity to open up the court. On Sunday he also posted a heroic number of unforced errors: 40 by Wimbledon’s generous method of tallying such things, which requires that each error be approved by four different subcommittees, each with the power of veto. Murray, by contrast, was more niggardly, and gave up about half that many. The final game was brilliant – if you watch nothing else from the final, you should watch this – with Djokovic erasing three match points, and raising the collective blood pressure of the British Isles alarmingly by gaining a series of break-back points. Sadly, his timing had been off all day, and it was now far too late. Murray eventually served out the most difficult game of his life, and turned to the British press box with his fists clenched exultantly. It was over. A manly Brit had won Wimbledon.

The crowd within Centre Court and outside on Murray Mound contrived somehow to roar louder, which had hardly seemed possible. It was more a change in timbre than volume, a new intensity for a new sensation. For the record, I must register my distaste for the term Murray’s Mound, especially when it’s packed, in which case it sounds like a very problematic case of pubic lice. If Henman’s Hill had to be renamed in Murray’s favour, then why not go all the way, and call it Mount Murray? That way the people living on it seem intrepid. The only thing the denizens of Mount Murray enjoy more than their namesake’s triumph is the sight of their own writhing biomass flashing up on the big screen, especially that crane shot that swoops in low. Such visual caresses reliably send them to the edge. Advocates for Kiss-Cam should take note. Wild in the summer heat, heaving at Murray’s victory, the intrepid crowd were driven to capering lunacy by a glimpse of themselves on the Jumbotron. Kiss-Cam would have lent an orgiastic temptation to the whole thing. What better way to celebrate a British man winning Wimbledon for the first time in seventy-seven years?

Perhaps, ultimately, by remembering who that British man is, and that it was his first Wimbledon title ever. Amidst the ten page, full colour hagiographies and the florid rhetoric, past David Cameron’s beaming grin and the orgasmic tweets from British tennis journalists, and beyond the assertions of national pride and the calls for royal honours, there’s still a young man, one who has always seemed eminently decent to me; nuanced, human, determined and flawed, with an unlovely game and a smirk that reveals a truer grasp of the world than he lets on, and truer than is usually good for an elite athlete.

Like Tim Henman, Bertolt Brecht never won Wimbledon, but unlike Henman he did once write a sweet little poem about a bone-handled fork, and about how when it broke he realised that it must always have been flawed. The trick, Brecht suggests, is to remember that you once thought it perfect. For Murray, precisely the opposite is true. Now that he has claimed Wimbledon, and allegedly achieved national wholeness at a stroke, it’s essential not to forget that we once found him flawed, and all too human. And yet he still won despite that, or even because of it. More than a mere victory for Great Britain, it is also a victory for himself. There may well be many more.

16 Comments

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16 Responses to We Once Found Him Flawed

  1. Eva

    We once found him flawed… I still find him so endearing… “I tried my best, I hope you guys enjoyed it” he so sweetly said… Not many Wimbledon champions can be so low key in triumph!

    I wonder if this so long awaited victory will make Andy less or more hungry for Grand Slams victories… Time will tell.

    Wimbledon was hugely enhanced by your brilliant writing. Thanks again.

    • I don’t think this will diminish his hunger one bit. If anything it’ll free him up to pursue other goals, such as the number one ranking. I don’t remember him ever talking much about that before. This could just be the start.

  2. Jade

    “…nuanced, human, determined and flawed, with an unlovely game and a smirk that reveals a truer grasp of the world than he lets on, and truer than is usually good for an elite athlete.”

    This is a beautiful line and sums up Andy Murray to a T. It was a true delight to see him so unfettered in his celebrations; as flat as Djokovic was in the final, I suspect that even if del Potro hadn’t worn him out so much, Murray would still have found a way to drag himself over the finish line or die trying in front of his countrymen.

    • Agreed. It’s tempting to think of the quarterfinal wobble against Verdasco was the one he had to have, and that it instil a greater sense of focus and urgency. But then he wasn’t that great in the semifinal, either. It was almost a reverse of Lisicki – everything just came together in the final. He didn’t turn into a juggernaut (a la Tokyo 2011 final), but his focus and determination were just astonishing, especially given what was going on around him.

      As a generally introverted kind of guy myself, I’ve always been sympathetic to Murray’s struggles with the spotlight, especially on court, and especially when things aren’t going his way. Soderling is (was?) another case – his aloofness and reserve never bothered me at all. In fact I thought perfectly understandable.

  3. Simmo

    As I was watching the match I couldn’t help wondering how you’d write about it. It seemed so difficult given the magnitude of the occasion and all that has happened, but the end result was brilliant! A really enjoyable read. Thanks for your efforts throughout the tournament Jesse! And echoing Jade, that line she quoted was a ‘going straight to the pool room’ line.

    Agreed on the Murray Mound issue. I also kinda wish Murray had Federer’s sense of humour. Just because when the MC mentioned the fans on “Henman Hill” in passing, I was waiting for Murray to smirk and say “Don’t you mean Murray Mound??”

    • I suspect that correction to ‘Murray’s Mound’ did flash across Murray’s mind, but he’s learned the long hard way never to risk upsetting the more captious elements of his English fan-base. I always get the feeling Murray’s private thoughts are a lot more acerbic than his remarks. As someone who tends towards the sardonic myself, I find that quite likeable about him.

      And thanks for reading. I have to admit, it’s a big relief that it’s now over, and I can take a bit of a break. Wait, what’s that? There’s tennis in Europe? Sigh.

  4. CL's Cat

    “You may recall that this shot also deserted him in his semifinal against Rafael Nadal.” ??????

    Have I slipped a cog/gear/year/parenthetical phrase ? Entirely possible. But the chap across the net from Novak in the semi seemed WAY taller than Rafa ..though he did sport a significant number of knee wrappings so perhaps some confusion stems from that?

    Henman Hill for ever. Seems so Britishly understated.

    • My bad. I meant the Roland Garros semifinal, and forgot that readers cannot see inside my head. I’ll amend the text to clarify it. Thanks!

      I kind of like that the name of the Hill changes depending on who the dominant player is, and as the demographic of those who inhabit it shifts. A topographical palimpsest.

  5. CL's Cat

    Ah…RG…THAT old thing.

    Bartoli Bank…Federer Fell…Sampras Summit..Graf Gradient ..Edberg Escarpment…Nadal Nob..Djokovic Dune…Williams Wen(??) Sharapova Summit… yes, I admit I cheated. The google helped me. But you can see where this might lead. No where good. To me, Henman Hill perfectly encapsulates the hope, the glory, the despair, the defeat, back to hope…of the UK Open tennis experience at Wimbledon. Plus, generations from now, people will be using whatever the internet has become to figure out who or what a ‘Henman’ was.

    As to the match..I agree the overall quality was on the low side…seasoned with bursts of ‘Wow.’ The tension however, was E string tight throughout. Djokovic’s inability to attack Murray’s very attackable second serve was continually baffling. But full credit to Murray…he held his nerve much the better of the two. And when he stepped into the court and hit his FH with authority and belief, Novak had no answer…at least on that day.

    I have been commenting ever since last year’s semi against Federer that something seems slightly ‘off’ in Novak’s justly vaunted movement. Its not just the slips and slides at Wimbledon..it is that, on all surfaces, for whatever reasons, he does not seem as squarely settled over his feet when he makes one his ‘how did he get that?’ gets and is therefore unable to do as much damage from outlier positions as he once did. No idea why..perhaps just the stress of being # 1 or perhaps a physical issue…but something is afoot with the feet. And it is not about shoes or even any diminution in speed. It too is a puzzlement.

  6. Jewell

    “A Brit had won Wimbledon.” – a British man, anyway. Wasn’t so long ago since a British woman won it. Although that kind of ruins a lot of the headline and myth-making.

    “For the record, I must register my distaste for the term Murray’s Mound, especially when it’s packed, in which case it sounds like a very problematic case of pubic lice.”

    I just broke a part of myself laughing.

  7. Simun Zed

    Djokovic problem was with holding his own serve, not with breaking Murray’s. Had he executed smashes alone properly, this match could have taken very different turn. Of course, this is coming from disappointed Djokovic fan. It has become conventional wisdom that Murray must be much more aggressive, especially on forehand side in order to win Slams. Against Djokovic of Sunday, he played very much within old himself and prevailed convincingly.

  8. Q

    Love this, not only for the usual great jokes, but also that penultimate paragraph. I don’t think I’ve read anything that captured Murray better than that. I feel his “unlovely” game is, in a way, actually like his interviews off court: low-key, understated, yet with much intelligence. But it’s easier to appreciate the depth therein off than on court, at least for me.

    I really hope Djokovic and Murray can one day play a major final more like Shanghai 2012 rather than like this. But I guess given the weight of the occasion that a major final offers, my hope is really just that, a hope.

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