Setting the Scene/s
Wimbledon, July 8th 2012, Men’s Final
Roger Federer vs. Andy Murray
Final Score: Roger Federer wins 4–6, 7–5, 6–3, 6–4
Six time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer steps onto court to face Andy Murray. Federer is playing for a 17th Grand Slam; Murray is playing for his 1st. If Andy wins he will be the first British men’s singles player to do so since Fred Perry.
Olympics (Wimbledon’s Centre Court), August 5th 2012, Gold Medal Match
Roger Federer vs. Andy Murray
Final Score: Andy Murray wins 6-2, 6-1, 6-4
Federer and Murray face each other on Centre Court exactly four weeks after their final at Wimbledon, this time for the Olympic gold.
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In every player’s career, there are a few select moments and matches you can point to and say: ‘That defined them.’ For Roger, you could argue his first Slam in 2003, his French Open victory, and the spectacular 2017 triumphs over his on-court kryptonite Rafael Nadal. For Rafa, perhaps his Wimbledon and Australian Open titles in 08 and 09 respectively, which cemented his position as a true great beyond the clay. For Djokovic, the 2011 Australian Open which served as the set up for one of the greatest runs in the history of tennis, or his 2016 French Open, where he finally achieved the Career Grand Slam. For Andy Murray, one needs look no further than the summer of 2012, and the epic double of Wimbledon and the Olympics.
Murray was dialled in from the first point, hitting cleanly, with power, and seemingly without nerves. He broke Federer in the opening service game of the match and went on to win the set; the first he had won in four grand slam finals.
At 15 all, 1 all in the second set Federer hits a forehand that is beyond beautiful.
Federer wins the second set with two of the most incredible rallies tennis can offer; demonstrating the brilliance of both players, and their full court abilities.
Then the roof closes.
‘This is delicious’, from Tim Henman in the commentary box.
In the third set, during a seemingly endless service game, Murray and Federer show the full glory of their rivalry. It takes 18 minutes and 6 break points for Federer to get through Murray.
From this point until the end, despite the match still being close, Federer had launched into his god-like mode. Murray did everything he could but he was unable to stop the Swiss Maestro’s tidal wave.
Federer wins, going down onto the grass as the tears come.
Federer starts with two break points against the Murray serve but cannot convert either. Murray is a different player than the last time he was on this court, hitting deep in every rally, forcing Federer back, and preventing every attempted attack.
Murray’s running backhand to seal the first set is a genuinely perfect shot.
Federer loses three service games in a row.
Murray’s game is brutal; at times his feet leave the ground, lifted by the power of his own shots.
There are passages of truly sublime play from both players; Federer fighting to get into the match but Murray simply won’t let it happen.
Murray steps up to serve for the gold medal.
Federer hits wide on his return: 15-0
Federer nails his return, Murray can only scramble after the ball: 15-15
Ace: And Murray wins the gold.
For most players a loss in front of their entire nation, that stamps out their dreams and ends their chance at making history, would break their spirit entirely: but not Andy Murray. Instead in their very next match, on the very same court Murray made Federer, the greatest men’s grass court player of all time, look practically incompetent. To this day your writers still aren’t sure how he did it. The mental strength required to achieve something like this is practically unprecedented in the sport. Murray had secured his place on top. Indeed, he went on to win his first Grand Slam at the US Open later that year, beating his nemesis Djokovic in an epic 5-setter. The Big Three had become the Big Four.
In winning the Olympic gold, Murray displayed his capacity not just for greatness in the sport, but greatness as a sportsman: ability, depth of feeling, passion; these fundamental characteristics carried him to greatness. That is until Murray’s heart-breaking downfall to injury in 2017. Your writers discussed at the time how sad we were about the seemingly instant reversion to the Big Three title. Had the tennis world suddenly forgotten Murray’s achievements? Had he become just another player on the ATP who would never reach the heights of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal, so wasn’t worth remembering?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Murray is the balancing force in tennis. His importance is well beyond that of other slam contenders in the last decade, even champions like del Potro, Cilic and Wawrinka. The reason for this is simple: consistency. Whilst it would be possible to argue that Stan the Man has reached similar levels of tennis to Murray, he does so only occasionally. Andy, on the other hand, has been consistently reaching finals and semi-finals for ten years. He is the player with the most number of wins against the rest of the Big 4, beating them a total of 29 times. He has reached 11 Slam finals and won 3, as well as 14 Masters 1000. All this in a generation with three of the greatest players of all time. Murray’s absence since 2017 has left the game lopsided. Suddenly 2 of the Big Three will find themselves on one side of the draw, an exhausting meeting almost inevitable. The third member will leisurely stroll into the final, full of energy, after beating at worst a Next-Gen player and at best someone who had a breakthrough run at one slam but was never seriously going to win, think Bautista Agut at Wimbledon 2019. Murray was the balance, whoever played him was not in for an easy ride; they won’t walk into the final with a major advantage, or lift the trophy with ease. His absence left a hole in the game, one that has impacted history.
What has to be Murray’s greatest achievement, however, what truly cements his place in the Big Four, is his climb to the top of the rankings in 2016. Despite playing in the greatest ever era of men’s tennis, Andy Murray became the best player in the word, beating Djokovic in the last match of the year to claim the world number one ranking. In 2016, he worked harder for that ranking than one could possibly imagine, winning a total of 9 titles, including his second Wimbledon and Olympics. In doing so, he became the first tennis player ever to defend the Olympics singles title. Andy Murray hit his prime in 2016, and prime Andy Murray was the best player in the world.
The real shame is that injury stopped him from carrying this form through the next few years, had he been able to do so your writers are sure he would have at least one more Slam to his name. It seems ludicrous to exclude a man who literally became the best player in the world, from a group of the best players in the world. No Andy Murray hasn’t won as many Slams or titles as Djokovic, Nadal or Federer, but the summer of 2012 and the run of 2016 prove he deserves to stand beside them. For your writers then, it will always be the Big Four.
Let us hope, with fingers crossed, that when the Olympics are played in Tokyo next year Murray is there, that the Olympic magic can be repeated, and Murray can return to where he belongs at the top of men’s tennis. But if he can’t, we will remain thankful that we got to watch him play, and thankful he made us love him. It took a long time for the British public to warm to him, and an even longer time for at least one of your writers. He can be surly, with a dry and sarcastic sense of humour, and he’s unwilling or unable to play at being “charming”. He plays without ever giving up; chases down impossible balls and somehow seems to reach them; he wins and loses with grace. In the end it was these qualities, combined with a truly glorious lob, which made us love him.