Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Past Pain Made Murray Find his Farah Factor

It was the agony not the ecstasy that made Murray a champion

He looked almost numb. Later, he said he was shocked, and his post-final interview on the court of major was in stark contrast to his previous one, at Wimbledon two months ago. Whereas there he had been unable to hold all of the emotion in, here he kept it together. Was he still in match mode, keeping everything under control, or was it that he simply could not believe that he had the trophy in his hands?

The Olympic summer – the golden summer – has been bookended by Andy Murray. As a nation moved from pessimism to optimism, so Andy moved from tears to joy. He wept on Centre Court, but Britain and he have not shed a despairing tear since then.

For a while, it looked like it was going to be a bit of an anti-climax. After 76 years of waiting, we suddenly found a British player, in a men’s singles major final, and he was two sets to the good. Of course, it hadn’t been easy, but it looked like it wasn’t going to be the most dramatic finale to an almighty wait. Well, you can always trust a Brit.

Murray duly suffered a Djokovic fightback, the powerful Serb seemingly unable to do any wrong, It was a reminder that, although the former world number one has lost his aura this year, he still has all the tools which put him in touching distance of completing the Grand Slam. Britain’s upper lip collectively wobbled as Djokovic levelled the match up at 2-2.

We had been here before; not in major finals perhaps, but in semi-finals and quarter-finals. The endless repetition of “so near and yet so far” seemed to be continuing. Murray had been here before too: losing from a position of command against Nadal in the Wimbledon semi last year; losing a titanic last four match against Djokovic at the Australian in January; being unable to find that extra gear against Federer on Centre Court in July. The thing is though, this is a different Andy Murray, even from the one we commiserated with just a few weeks ago.

Murray has never been a quitter, but now he does more than valiantly fight to the death. He digs deeper, battles through the pain and the uncertainty, and finds that extra bit of grit. It could be called the Farah Factor.

He started the fifth set at a canter and, though he kept us on our toes by suffering a break, he kept his head above water and suddenly found himself with 3 championship points. He lost the first, and, on the second, suddenly saw a huge Djokovic return thunder back across the net. He couldn’t reach it. It was too fast. It landed beyond both him and the line. There was a cry of “Out”, followed by the roar of the crowd. The champion still didn’t dare believe. He did not know whether the ball was definitely out, or whether Djokovic had challenged or not, and then the fact dawned on him and he sunk to his knees.

Much has been made of the Olympics being the moment when Murray changed from the greatest player never to have won a major into the player to beat. However, when he arrived back at Wimbledon to compete for Team GB he already was that player. Indeed, he was more consistent in the Olympics than he was at Flushing Meadows. The moment it changed was the agonising defeat to Federer.

Murray’s previous three grand slam final defeats had all been to inspired players. No shame in that. The defeat to Federer in July was also to an inspired player, but Murray knew that he could have won despite Federer’s brilliance on that day. He could do this. He was so close.

He found his Farah Factor: that capacity to work at the peak of your ability and at the very limits of your body, and then find that extra gear and pull clear in the final lap.

One of the most telling moments was Djokovic’s reaction. He was utterly magnanimous and was able to say the opposite of what many other players have had to say about Murray in the past. This time it was not “He will surely win a major one day”, but rather “He absolutely deserves it”. Tennis has a new and deserving champion. The question now is how much more can the boy from Dunblaine can achieve now that he has reached the promised land.

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