Column: Some sweet redemption for Murray
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Up on Murray Mount, the crowd was in a festive mood long before the rain stopped and the roof over Wimbledon parted to reveal a Centre Court sparkling brilliantly in the sunlight.
Still giddy from the events of the day before, when Britain celebrated its biggest Olympic haul ever, they drank beer, ate sausage sandwiches and chanted for the dour Scotsman who had teased them before.
If they were feeling a sense of deja vu, imagine what was going through Andy Murray's head Sunday afternoon. He was back in a place that had treated him so cruelly, the hopes of a country once again riding on his ability to beat perhaps the best man ever to play the game.
Just weeks earlier, he broke down in tears after Roger Federer beat him here, preventing him from becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. To have it happen again at the London Games would have been even more cruel, perhaps too cruel for Murray to bear.
There would be no crying on this day. Just the joy of pure redemption.
The crowd that willed him on celebrated with him as he finished off Federer with three straight aces in a romp Murray could have only imagined a few weeks ago. His knees buckled as he pointed skyward in triumph, the biggest win of his life secured before some 13,000 fans who chanted his name, waved flags and made the Centre Court stadium seem just a little less genteel than it normally is.
"I'm getting closer," Murray told fans after his agonizing loss last month.
But even he couldn't have known how close he was.
On a weekend of British athletic success like no other, Murray was faced with perhaps the most difficult task of any of his fellow Olympians — finding a way to beat a man who had beaten him in three Grand Slam finals. Murray desperately wanted to join the parade of gold-medal winners, just as he had desperately wanted to win his first major championship on the same court a month ago.
That was not meant to be. Federer played brilliantly with the roof closed on that day, beating Murray in four sets and bringing him to tears as he tried unsuccessfully to explain how it somehow got away.
This time it was, with Murray never allowing Federer a chance to end his quest. What was supposed to be an epic Olympic tennis final turned into a most improbable rout as Murray took advantage of every mistake by Federer in a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 victory that was every bit as lopsided as the score indicated.
"That's No. 1 for me," Murray said. "The biggest win of my life."
It might have been the biggest day for Olympic tennis, too. The sport was long viewed as little more than an afterthought in the Olympics, but this match was always going to take center stage, if only because it was on Centre Court. Add in the home country hope going up against a legend of the court in a dramatic rematch, and well, it was almost too perfect a combination.
The crowd on Murray Mount — the outside viewing area at Wimbledon that used to be called Henman's Hill in honor of former British player Tim Henman — sat in the rain watching the women's doubles match on the giant video screen patiently waiting for the main event to begin.
Almost as if British Olympic chief Sebastian Coe had planned it himself, the rain stopped, the sun came out, and the retractable roof opened to let in the rays on what was suddenly a gorgeous English summer afternoon.
Inside, things weren't exactly raucous — this is the place of royals, players wearing all white and strawberries and cream, after all — but it was about as loud as Wimbledon gets. People waved British flags between games, shouted "Come on, Andy!" on crucial points, and tried to will him to his gold medal.
The standing joke among the sporting crowd in this country is that Murray is British when he wins and Scottish when he loses. And he couldn't have been more British on this day, wrapping a Union Jack around his shoulders and mouthing the words to the country's national anthem with the gold medal securely around his neck.
The image was in stark contrast to his breakdown after losing to Federer in the Wimbledon final, a moment that was quickly seared into the national consciousness. Indeed, the night before when new national hero Jessica Ennis won the heptathlon, her coach warned an interviewer on BBC not to become too sentimental.
"Don't make me cry," Toni Minichiello said. "I'm not going to do an Andy Murray."
Doing a Murray might have a different meaning now. Few players would have the will to come back so soon after such heartbreak, especially under the crushing pressure of a country desperate for winners.
He hasn't won Wimbledon, but now, at least, he's won AT Wimbledon.
"I don't think he needed this to be quite honest," Federer said. "Because he is a good player. Don't forget that. He's an amazing player already."
So amazing that Murray took the court again less than an hour after his huge victory to try to win another gold, teaming with Laura Robson in the mixed doubles final against Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. That one didn't go so well, with Murray and Robson squandering a first set win to lose on a tiebreaker.
Still, he left Centre Court with gold and silver. His afternoon was complete, his job now done.
And no one is going to call him a loser anymore.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg