Although I always enjoyed playing sport at school, I don’t often find it that interesting to watch. Aside from motor sport, I don’t go to sporting events and watch hardly any on television. Recent World Cup attention baffles me. Yet over the past couple of years, one sporting event has stopped seeming quite as boring as I thought when I was a kid: Wimbledon.
I watched the longest match in history in 2010 between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. Well, part of it; it was very long. The skill and sheer stamina of tennis players is incredible.
Admittedly, having one of our countrymen to support is probably what makes tennis slightly more interesting to me. Being Scottish, Andy Murray is at a slight disadvantage to everyone else, because we are terrible at sport (except motor racing and curling). This makes the fact that he is actually a decent tennis player surprising but exciting for the whole of the UK. Instead of supporting someone simply because they are British, here is a player who can make it to the final rounds of Grand Slam tournaments.
One of these, and my favourite ever match, was the Wimbledon Men’s Singles final 2013 between Murray and Novak Djokovic.
It might be hard for people from other countries – those that prefer different sports or that have more successful athletes – to understand just how big an event this was. No Brit had won the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Championship for 77 years. The last time a Scot won it was 1896.
The media pressure on Murray had always been immense, but the media has unrealistic expectations of most national teams and players. I reckon everyone was a bit surprised that someone had actually fulfilled them by reaching the final again. However, Murray was rated number two in the world; Djokovic was number one, and he had had a serious winning streak last year.
I was working on the day of the match, but – sure that it would be a long, five-set affair – I wasn’t too worried about missing part of it. We had it playing in the staff room, and I admit that we were all skiving a bit, taking unnecessary trips through the staff room and – in the case of a couple of people! – blatantly sitting watching the match if it wasn’t 100% necessary to be on the floor.
I had a presentation to make. When I left, Murray was in the lead. When I returned, Djokovic had made a comeback. Then Murray caught up and took the second set, and only had to win one more to win the entire Championship. Still I thought the match would go on and on.
When it was time to leave, Djokovic was ahead in the third set, and I began to race along the Royal Mile to try to get home to see the rest. It was a bright sunny day, and there were plenty of tourists walking around, oblivious to the event. However, noise was spilling out of the pubs, full of people watching – one of the few occasions Scots will give up getting out in the sunshine. The Filling Station had a giant TV facing the window, so I headed over to check what was going on. Good thing, too. It was championship point.
I went to the doorway to watch. This was as far as I could get, since the place was packed, yet it was nearly silent. You could hear the pop, pop, pop of the tennis ball as they rallied it back and forth.
Djokovic won the rally.
There followed an infuriating mixture of deuce and Djokovic almost breaking Murray’s serve. There were cheers whenever Murray won a point, and groans whenever he missed one. People made random comments on particularly good rallies to the person beside them, whether they knew them or not. An Australian stopped to see what was going on, was informed of the occasion, and stayed to watch the rest. Of course, I could have been home in the time I stood watching, but I wouldn’t have dared to move.
Finally, we faced championship point yet again, the fourth this time. There was a false alarm, some people cheering when they thought Djokovic’s return was out, but it wasn’t. We were still recovering when Murray sent it back and Djokovic hit the ball into the net. It was all over.
And the reaction! A roar, that of the fans of any winning team, mixed up with disbelief that he had managed it. After so many years, the Wimbledon trophy finally belonged to a player from home, though it felt like it was for all of us.
Some people began ordering more pints, and some of us started to move on. We were a group of strangers once again.
It was one of those matches to show off the best that sport can achieve – celebrating another’s achievement, uniting people, and inspiring them.
I think my favourite reaction video is this one from Lothian Road in Edinburgh. You might think the first cheer would be for winning – it’s not. It’s just him getting to championship point. Then you get the real winning cheer!
Tomorrow Wimbledon starts again. Now the pressure on Murray has changed, from being the one to end the winning drought to being the defending champion. It would be a massive ask to win again, although I’m sure the media pressure will double. Even if he only ever wins it once, I’m glad that I was witness to it.