It is 76 years since Fred Perry - one of the few good things to come out of Stockport - won the US Tennis Championship. Since that time a succession of ‘Great British Hopes’ have come and gone. With each non-champion the weight of expectation and history has become heavier and heavier. The more realistic the expectation - the heavier the weight.
Andrew Castle, Jeremy Bates, John Lloyd, Buster Mottram and Andrew Cox were all in the second tier of world tennis and were not overburdened by being rated as British Number One. Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski however were better players and as such they had a glimmer of a chance. That glimmer was more than enough to fuel a hype machine in the media matched by a public desperate for success. Henman got close. So close he had a hill at Wimbledon named after him. The best he achieved in a major tournament was to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon four times in the early 2000’s. Henman Hill became Heartbreak Hill. Rusedski was a British Canadian and as such never really captured the hearts of British fans. He made one appearance in a slam final, losing to Pat Rafter in the US Open.
A scrawny Junior Champion called Andy Murray turned up at Wimbledon in 2005. He has gone from strength to strength and on top form he could (and did) beat the top players to reach a top four ranking in the world. He struggled to win major finals though. He played the finest stars of his generation at the top of their game. Nadal, Djokovic and particularly Federer are among the all-time greats of the sport. With each defeat in four slam finals pressure mounted. For him to throw off the burden of history and the weight of expectation last night in New York was a remarkable achievement. That he did it the hard way in a match of roller-coaster fortunes was not a surprise. Just when he thought he had Djokovic on toast, the Champion roared back, raising his game and leveling the match at two sets all.
Even Murray’s most ardent fans back in his hometown of Dunblane must have been worried. It was time to dig deep. And he did. Winning the Olympic Gold must have helped him and his self-belief. Having Ivan Lendl as his coach was another significant factor. Lendl won his first major after four failed attempts. He went on to win eight slam titles.
In a post-match interview he said his main feeling was one of relief. There will be pressure next year at Wimbledon but nothing like the pressure he has been under. He can now play the event and not the history.
Andy Murray has just capped a summer of extraordinary achievements.