Andy Murray overcame the wind, the U.S. Open defending champion and the weight of three-quarters of a century of tennis history to capture his first Grand Slam title and a golden opportunity as an endorser.
Murray, 25, knocked off Novak Djokovic of Serbia in five sets last night at the rain-delayed U.S. Open in New York to become the first male British Grand Slam champion since Fred Perry in 1936. Murray’s 7-6 (12-10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 victory tied for the longest U.S. Open final at 4 hours, 54 minutes.
Murray’s victory ended a lock on major titles by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, who combined to win 29 of the previous 30. The result is an opportunity to earn millions as one of the sporting world’s most recognizable stars, sports marketers said.
“A win at the U.S. Open, coupled with his Olympic victory, will bring him untold riches,” Alan Seymour, a professor of sports marketing at the U.K.’s University of Northampton, said in an interview shortly before the final, estimating that Murray’s earnings might increase “five- to 10-fold.”
Murray’s off-court earnings were estimated at close to 7 million pounds ($11 million) by Nigel Currie, director of London-based sports marketing agency brandRapport. His income could “more than double” because of the unique nature of how long Britain waited for a major champion, Currie said.
“There are only a few truly global sports stars,” Currie said in an interview before the match, suggesting companies that typically sponsor big events such as the Olympics or the soccer World Cup would be keen to sign Murray. “To reach every part of the globe is very hard, but top players in golf and tennis can do it.”
No. 8 Earner
Murray’s on- and off-court annual earnings are estimated at $12 million, according to Forbes magazine, which last month listed him as No. 8 among the best-paid tennis players. He collected $1.9 million for winning the Open. Federer of Switzerland, the winner of 17 major singles titles, is the sport’s top earner with $54.3 million. He’s followed by Nadal of Spain, the French Open winner who was absent from the U.S. Open with a knee injury, at $32.4 million.
Battling swirling winds when the final began at 4 p.m. New York time in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Djokovic and Murray played a defensive 87-minute first set that included several long rallies, including one that lasted 54 shots.
The tiebreaker itself went 24 minutes, with two rallies of more than 30 shots. It ended after 22 points when Djokovic’s return sailed long on Murray’s sixth set point.
Djokovic dropped the first four games of the second set and then began to show signs of the form that helped him win five Grand Slams, breaking Murray’s serve twice before dropping the set on his own serve.
Djokovic won the next two sets more easily, holding all of his serves while breaking Murray’s twice in each frame.
In the fifth set, he broke Djokovic’s serve three times before gaining the title as the Serbian’s forehand landed beyond the baseline. Murray didn’t fall to the ground as many champions do. Instead, he took several steps without even raising his arms, as if in disbelief that he had finally overcome his biggest career obstacle.
“When you’re on the court, you don’t necessarily feel it,” Murray said at a news conference, sitting beside the championship trophy. “But I know when I was serving for the match, there’s a sense of how big a moment that is in British tennis history.”
The victory will pay dividends in endorsement deals and sponsorships long after he retires, said Scott Becher, managing director of Z Sports & Entertainment, a division of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, based Zimmerman Advertising.
“By winning the U.S Open, Andy Murray cemented his legacy,” Becher said in a telephone interview. “Playing well helps your career while you’re active, but winning Grand Slams defines your legacy after you retire.”
Murray’s limited awareness among American consumers could hinder his endorsement potential, said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of Manhasset, New York-based Q Scores, which measures consumer appeal in brands and personalities. The company’s most recent study, released this month, showed Murray, a Scot, was recognized by 15 percent of the U.S. population, compared with 40 percent for Federer.
“One of the things that Murray needs is to get more exposure outside of the sport if he’s going to look for growth in marketability,” Schafer said in a telephone interview. “That means getting on talk shows or making public appearances, just to expand the demographic of people who know him and the perspective on his personality.”
During the final, which ended after 2 a.m. in Britain, Murray got plenty of worldwide television time, playing a men’s final that tied Mats Wilander’s win over Ivan Lendl -- who is now Murray’s coach -- for the longest in U.S. Open history.
Murray, who at times been regarded by some people in Britain as “a bit dour” according to Seymour, gained supporters after sobbing following his Wimbledon final loss to Federer.
“That was the moment when some brands probably realized that there could be a different side to Andy Murray,” Seymour said.
Last night Murray shed tears of joy, having fulfilled his own dreams and those of his nation’s tennis fans. He also showed his lighter side, drawing laughter from media members when discussing the weight of British expectations placed on his tennis career.
“I’m proud that I managed to achieve it,” he said. “And I don’t have to get asked that stupid question again.”
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