After ending a 76-year British men’s tennis drought with a victory that took almost five hours, Andy Murray struggled to turn a grimace into a smile as he accepted the U.S. Open winner’s trophy.
Murray, who ended his personal streak of futility as well, beat defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6 (12-10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 in a four-hour, 54-minute match that tied the record for the longest final at the National Tennis Center in New York.
It was the first win for a British man at a major tennis tournament since Fred Perry won the U.S. National Championship - - the predecessor to the U.S. Open -- in 1936 for the last of his 10 major titles.
“When I was serving for the match, there’s a sense of how big a moment that is in British tennis history,” Murray told reporters. “I hope it inspires some kids to play tennis and also takes away the notion that British tennis players choke.”
Murray’s breakthrough in his 28th Grand Slam event came after four runner-up finishes. He lost the final of the 2011 Australian Open to Djokovic and was beaten by Roger Federer of Switzerland in three others: at the 2008 U.S. Open, in Australia in 2010 and this year at Wimbledon.
Since professionals began playing majors in 1968, the only other man who lost his first four Grand Slam finals is Ivan Lendl, who is now Murray’s coach. Lendl went on to win eight.
Murray, 25, the No. 3 seed, was watched from the stands by fellow Scots -- including actor Sean Connery and Manchester United soccer manager Alex Ferguson -- and his victory was lauded by the London-based Press Association as among “Great British Sporting Moments.”
Murray earned $1.9 million for the win in Arthur Ashe Stadium, bringing his career prize money to more than $23 million. Djokovic earned $950,000 and a $500,000 bonus for having won the U.S. Open Series of tournaments leading up to the Grand Slam event.
Djokovic, 25, was the 2-5 favorite at the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book, translating to a 71 percent probability of a sixth major title for the Serbian. A successful $100 bet on underdog Murray yielded a $210 profit.
The match was delayed a day because of rain, making it the fifth straight U.S. Open men’s final pushed to a Monday by bad weather after 21 years of on-time finishes. Though it was dry last night, a swirling wind bothered both players.
“It was incredibly tricky conditions and, after the third and fourth sets, it was mentally tough for me,” Murray said while accepting the winner’s trophy. “I don’t know how I managed to come through in the end.”
After a Djokovic forehand sailed just long to give Murray the title, the Scot slowly lifted his hands to his face and then squatted on the court. Exhausted and exhilarated, he fought back grimaces while accepting the champion’s trophy.
Murray, who said he cried on the court after the win, was asked during a post-match news conference why he still wasn’t smiling.
“I don’t know if it’s disbelief or whatever,” he said. “I’m very, very happy on the inside. I’m sorry if I’m not showing it as you would like.”
The only other U.S. Open final to last as long was in 1988, when Mats Wilander of Sweden defeated Lendl, also in four hours and 54 minutes.
If the second-seeded Djokovic had won the fifth set, he would have become the first person to come back from a two-set deficit to capture the U.S. Open title in 63 years. Pancho Gonzales defeated Ted Schroeder 16-18, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in an all-American final in 1949.
“It wasn’t to be,” Djokovic said during the trophy presentation. “I gave it all, and it was another tremendous match to be a part of. Up until the last moment, it was definitely enjoyable.”
The win broke a stranglehold on major titles by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, who combined to win 29 of the previous 30. Juan Martin Del Potro’s 2009 U.S. Open victory was the lone exception.
It also made 2012 the first year since 2003 in which all four men’s Grand Slam titles have been won by different players -- Djokovic won the Australian Open in January, Nadal took the French Open title in June and Federer captured the Wimbledon crown in July.
There were four service breaks in the first eight games of the opening set as the players tried to adjust to the swirling 16 mile-per-hour (26 kilometer-per-hour) wind. Playing tentatively instead of going for winners, the two men exchanged 54 strokes on one point in the sixth game of the 87-minute set. The tiebreaker lasted 24 minutes.
After Murray won the first-set tiebreaker on his sixth set point, he took a 4-0 lead in the second set by breaking Djokovic’s serve twice. Djokovic stormed back to win five of the next six games, only to have Murray break his serve again in the 12th game to win the set.
Djokovic won the third and fourth sets. Murray then opened the fifth set with a service break and led the rest of the way.
With the win, Murray, who took the gold medal at the London Games in August, became the first man to win both a gold medal and the U.S. Open title since tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988.
“He deserved to win this Grand Slam more than anybody,” Djokovic told reporters. “He has proven today that he’s a champ and he deserves to be where he is, no question about it.”