Andy Murray has claimed his second Wimbledon title with a straight-sets victory over Milos Raonic
As Andy Murray headed for the champions dinner at the Guildhall for the second time, three years after his first, he finally had time to properly savour the unique joy of owning not only the Wimbledon title, but the love of a nation, as well as his family.
With his wife, Kim, by his side, and his mother and father not far behind, Murray might also have spared a thought en route for his brother, Jamie, who had flown to Belgrade earlier with the Great Britain Davis Cup team in preparation for the quarter-final against Serbia later in the week. He hopes to join him shortly and then look ahead to retaining his gold medal at the Rio Olympics in August, as well as mounting a challenge with Jamie for the doubles title there. On a warm summers evening, life could hardly be better.
For now, though, the glow of victory gave him a more immediate rush. He had comprehensively beaten Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (2) in two hours and 48 minutes, and Centre Court belonged to him. The applause that greeted his victory was as prolonged as his tearful celebration, his head buried in his towel as he shuddered uncontrollably.
After composing himself, he would tell the BBCs Sue Barker: Ive had some great moments here and some tough losses, and Im proud to have my hands on the trophy again. I played really good stuff today. Milos has had a great few weeks on the grass. Hes one of the harder workers out there. And a huge thank you to everyone who came out to support me. The prime ministers here as well. Playing in a Wimbledon final is tough, but I wouldnt want to be prime minister. Its an impossible job. Looking towards Lendl, he joked. Hes just lucky. The best coach he has ever had smiled back.
Lendl was there, too, when Murray beat Novak Djokovic in three sets in 2013, when the Scot was riding on a bank of hope and adrenalin; after doing the same to Raonic even more convincingly, he had delivered on expectation, an altogether different pressure. But, as ever, he was up for it. The nerves of three years ago were nowhere in evidence. His shots bristled with purpose and confidence. He moved, injury free now, as if he were playing in his own back garden. Twelve unforced errors and 29 clean winners over three sets told a story of chilling efficiency.
It might be cruel to regard Raonic as robotic and Murray as an emotional volcano, but there are elements of truth in both descriptions, and they were amply justified in an absorbing final.
It was no mystery that the young Canadian would use his power to try to bludgeon the Scot, on serve and with his wicked ground strokes. Nor did it come as a surprise that Murray not only anticipated each assault but had an answer for most of them.
Raonic later insisted, against all available evidence, that he did a better job this time than in his loss in the Queens Club final of not getting sucked in to playing Murrays game. In nearly every exchange of consequence, Murray drew him on to the punch then jabbed short, sharp winners down either wing, especially across him with the backhand as Raonic drifted towards the net.
It was the key manoeuvre of the final. Its predictability did not dull its effectiveness. At Queens Club three Sundays ago, he struggled a little against Raonics raw energy in the first set of the final, which he lost, before figuring out how to break him down, moving him laterally at will by the end and closing out the third set 6-3 to win a record fifth title there and establish a platform for his progress here.
The process of decoding Raonics tennis began a lot earlier in this final than it did during the one at Queens. It was as if he were picking up at Wimbledon where he had left off then. By the end, he was stroking the ball with such confidence there seemed no way the younger man could stay with him, even in an all-out hitting competition. Murray had conquered him in all departments.
He almost matched him for aces, going down 8-7. But he did that by defusing Raonics serve, the weapon a lot of good critics had understandably predicted would cause Murray the most problems. Ultimately, that was not the case. In his six previous matches, Raonic had compiled a staggering 138 aces, 25 more than the next best, John Isner. Murray went into the final with a relatively modest 51. Here, Murray put a rose in his gun barrel.
Raonic hardly played badly. He was just not allowed to play his best and most dangerous tennis. While the match was not filled with many spectacular moments, one stands out for its audacity, and it demonstrated why Murray is regarded as perhaps second only to Djokovic as a returner of big serves.
Standing on the baseline at 30-all in the ninth game of the second set, Murray somehow batted back a 147mph cannon ball by three miles an hour the fastest serve of the tournament to leave Raonic non-plussed. It was an extraordinary shot.
Elsewhere, Murray went about his work methodically and with iron discipline. There were a few loose strokes under pressure but not many and not when it really mattered. He gave Raonic only two break points in the whole match and the sixth seed could not take either of them.
It was on the counter that Murray hurt him most often. As Raonic stuck to his strategy presumably on the advice of his new part-time adviser, John McEnroe of moving with menace towards the net at every available opportunity, Murray passed him with increasing ease. He eschewed the lob, mainly because he wanted his opponent to reach to either wing in those exchanges, testing both his stamina, his suspect footwork and his commitment to what became his only attacking ploy, however doomed.
If there is a style that Murray likes to conquer, it is one that makes the most demands on his impeccable defensive tennis, and the sight of Raonic growing large at the net brought a glint to his eye. For all that he can be a prisoner of his emotions, this is what brings steel to his talent: a challenge, a puzzle to solve.