Andy Murray outfought and outlasted Novak Djokovic to win the U.S. Open title in five sets on Monday evening in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
Murray won by scores of 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 at Arthur Ashe Stadium, winning his first Grand Slam while capping off a dream summer.
"Novak is so, so strong. He fights until the end in every single match," Murray said. "I don't know how I managed to come through in the end."
The match lasted 4 hours, 54 minutes, tying the record for longest U.S. Open final. They repeatedly produced fantastic, tales-in-themselves points, lasting 10, 20, 30, even 55 — yes, 55! — strokes, counting the serve. The crowd gave a standing ovation to salute one majestic, 30-stroke point in the fourth set that ended with Murray's forehand winner as Djokovic fell to the court, slamming on his left side.
By the end, Djokovic — who had won eight consecutive five-set matches, including in the semifinals (against Murray) and final (against Rafael Nadal) at the Australian Open in January — was the one looking fragile, trying to catch breathers and doing deep knee bends at the baseline to stretch his aching groin muscles. After getting broken to trail 5-2 in the fifth, Djokovic had his legs massaged by a trainer.
"He deserved to win this Grand Slam more than anybody," Djokovic said of Murray, who will rise to No. 3 in the rankings behind No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Djokovic.
Just two months ago, the 25-year-old Murray was best known as a player who couldn't quite crack the upper echelon of the men's game.
But he has clearly prospered with coach Ivan Lendl. Like Lendl before him, the Scotsman had lost his first four Grand Slam final appearances, including the Aussie loss to Djokovic early this year.
He is the first British men's player to win a major since Fred Perry did 76 years ago, and he earned $1.9 million US for his effort.
"Relief is probably the best word I would use to describe how I'm feeling just now," Murray said, adding: "You do think: Is it ever going to happen?"
Murray reached the final at Wimbledon, and rebounded from the sting of that loss to Roger Federer to beat the Swiss star in the Olympic gold medal final last month.
Djokovic was looking to win his fifth major since the beginning of 2011. He is now 5-4 lifetime in Grand Slam finals, having lost at the French Open in early June to clay master Nadal.
The Serbian had won 27 Grand Slam hard-court matches in a row.
Murray needed six set points to win the first set of the match delayed a day by adverse weather, taking it 12-10 in a tiebreaker.
It was the longest tiebreaker ever played in the tournament's men's title match, and it lasted 25 minutes.
Djokovic, who had trouble with his footing, was then broken at love in the second game of the second set.
Murray raced to a 4-0 lead, but Djokovic stormed back to threaten to win the set.
He did win the next two despite persistent leg pains, with Murray growing frustrated with his own play.
No one had blown a two-set lead in the U.S. Open title match since 1949, and Murray was determined not to claim that distinction.
Murray broke early to render the fifth set largely without suspense. He needed three championship points before completing his long-awaited Slam.
When Djokovic sent a forehand return long on the final point, Murray crouched and covered his mouth with both hands, as though even he could not believe this moment had actually arrived.
"Well, any loss is a bad loss. There is no question about it," Djokovic said. "I'm disappointed to lose the match, but in the back of my mind I knew that I gave it all. I really, really tried to fight my way back."
Monday's result represented just the second time in the last 31 Grand Slams, since the 2005 French Open, that the championship trophy was lifted by someone other than Federer, Nadal or Djokovic. The other exception was Juan Martin del Potro's 2009 victory at Flushing.
High-profile Murray supporters
It was windy at the start Monday, gusting above 25 mph, and Murray dealt with it much better. Djokovic admitted after his semifinal that he was bothered by heavy wind while falling behind 5-2 in the first set Saturday; that's when play was suspended until the next day, the reason the tournament finished on a Monday instead of Sunday for the fifth consecutive year. Murray faced similar conditions in the semifinals — when a changeover chair skidded onto the court as he served one point — and joked after that victory that growing up in wind-whipped Scotland helped.
Murray had plenty of noteworthy fans in the stands Monday, including a pair of Scots who crashed his news conference after that semifinal: actor Sean Connery and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson. The last British woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, 1977 Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade, also was present, chatting between games with actor Stanley Tucci.
With the air carrying balls and making them dip or dart this way and that, nearly every shot became a bit of an adventure. Both players repeatedly needed to adjust mid-swing, contorting their bodies simply to make contact. Both let service tosses fall to the ground because the ball would move out of hitting range. As the wind wrapped around the chair umpire's microphone, it made a loud, distracting sound that resembled thunder.
"We both did a lot of running. It was unfortunate really to not be able to come up with big shots at the right time. It forced me to go for winners or mistakes," Djokovic said. "Unfortunately I did a lot of mistakes."
He totalled 65 unforced errors to Murray's 56; they combined for 49 more unforced errors than winners. That said, there probably should have a statistic to count wind-forced errors.
They traded nearly mirror-image breaks in the first two games, and that made sense, given how good both are at returning serve. Two of the best in the game right now, maybe ever. Djokovic crouches low, his back nearly parallel to the ground, before an opponent serves. Murray shuffles his weight from leg to leg and hops forward at the last second to cut off angles.
Both worked hard, the physical nature taking a toll. Djokovic's right knee was bloodied after he scraped it during a few tumbles to the court when he lost his footing, and he switched shoes late in the third set. Murray clutched his left thigh while deciding not to chase a lob.
There were 10 points of at least 10 strokes each in the first-set tiebreaker, which lasted 25 minutes. Djokovic saved each of Murray's initial five set points, the last with a 123 mph ace to make it 10-all. But Djokovic's backhand flew long at the end of a 21-shot exchange to cede set point No. 6, and this time Murray converted, hitting a 117 mph serve that Djokovic couldn't put in the court.
Murray turned toward his guest box and bellowed, "Come on!"
That loss to Federer in this year's Wimbledon final left Murray in tears, his voice cracking as he told the supportive Centre Court crowd, "I'm getting closer." He appeared to be really, really close Monday, after seizing that epic first set and then racing to a 4-0 lead in the second.
But Djokovic is nothing if not tenacious, and he would not go quietly. Raising his level of play as Murray took a step or two backward, Djokovic broke for 4-1 and then again when Murray served for a two-set lead at 5-3. That's when Murray made three unforced errors, truly showing some jitters, as though the prospect of such prosperity was a tad overwhelming.
When Djokovic held to 5-all, it seemed as though the second set might head to a tiebreaker, too.
But with Djokovic serving while trailing 6-5, he was the one who faltered. On a 31-stroke point, Djokovic missed a forehand to make it 15-30. Then Murray's defensive skills came into play, as he got one overhead back and forced Djokovic to hit a second, which sailed wide. Chest heaving, Djokovic put his hands on his hips, having a hard time understanding what was happening. Two points later, Djokovic pushed an inside-out forehand wide, giving Murray that set. Even Lendl rose to his feet.
Djokovic, though, knows how to fashion a comeback. He's won three times after facing a two-set hole, most recently in the French Open's fourth round this year, and most notably in the U.S. Open's semifinals against Federer last year.
"If I had lost this one from two sets up," Murray said, "that would have been a tough one to take."
After stretching for a backhand volley winner to hold at 1-1 in the third, Djokovic let out a guttural yell and pumped his fists. Across the net, Murray frowned and shook his head. In the very next game, as Murray kept up a monologue of self-admonishment, Djokovic kept up his better-late-than-never charge. He broke for a 2-1 lead, turning on a 126 mph serve with a terrific return. Soon enough, they were headed to a fourth set.
Djokovic held onto the momentum there. He secured a break point by tapping the ball over the net with the lightest caress, then took four steps, raised his right fist and yelled. There was more punching of the air and screaming seconds later after a volley winner put Djokovic ahead 1-0.
The sun was setting, the match was approaching 3 ½ hours, and it was apparent that Murray was now tentative and in some trouble.
Djokovic tries "short" strategy
"At some point, it's going to come down to who wants it more or how badly do you want it," Lendl said. "I don't want to say Novak didn't want it. But it's: How bad do you want it? What price are you going to pay and how can you execute under extreme pressure?"
Making a key tactical move, Djokovic pushed forward at nearly any opportunity, shortening points and grabbing easy volleys wherever he could. He ended up winning the point on 39 of 56 trips to the net; Murray was 16 of 24.
A critical moment came with Djokovic facing a break point that could have let Murray pull even in the fourth set. After Murray missed a forehand to make it deuce, chair umpire Jake Garner warned Djokovic about taking too much time between points. A discussion ensued, and after winning the next point with a service winner, Djokovic sent a "Take that!" stare in Garner's direction. In the stands, Djokovic's father stood up and glared at Garner. Djokovic held to go ahead 3-1 and eventually forced the fifth set.
Murray nosed ahead quickly, breaking for a 1-0 lead when his shot ticked off the net tape, throwing off Djokovic, who missed a backhand then smiled a wry smile of disbelief, shaking his head. Murray walked to the changeover chomping on a white towel.
It was a 2-0 lead for Murray soon thereafter, as he pounded a 131 mph service winner and then used some terrific defence to stretch a point until Djokovic missed again. Murray screamed and pumped his arms, and the spectators, sending something special, responded with a roar.
Murray broke again to go ahead 3-0 and was on his way.
Now Murray joins the Grand Slam club.
"I think everybody's in kind of shock," Murray said, "that this happened."With files from CBCSports.ca