WIMBLEDON, England -- The British Parliament outlawed the paddle in 1987 but apparently news has not filtered down from Westminster to Wimbledon, the leafy district in the southwest corner of the great city of London. Really, this might have been illegal. Andy Murray did not merely defeat arguably the best player in the history of tennis in the Olympic final, he went all Tom Brown's School Days on Roger Federer's tanned and regal hide. This one left a welt.
The beating lasted four minutes shy of two hours, finishing in ample time for Sunday tea. The score was 6-2, 6-1, 6-4, the kind of numbers that you might see if you visited the cozy confines of Centre Court in the last week of June when players like Murray, a Scot with a big backcourt game, would be tuning up for the expected key matches 10 days hence against players from countries you might not be able to find in an atlas.
This was not a nobody on the other side of the net. This was the ultimate somebody, the balletic Swiss star, the No. 1 player in the world, a 17-time Grand Slam champion. Federer looks ethereal on court, but is undeniably human, losing late in tournaments occasionally. He does not, however, lose nine straight games -- four on his own serve -- and essentially get hustled out of his favorite joint like a drunk who can't pay his bar tab. When asked in a news conference if he could recall the last time he had dropped nine consecutive games, Federer said, "I can't remember." Pause. "I don't want to remember."
"In a lot of ways, the score is irrelevant," Murray said. "But, you know, when I look back on the match, it will be one that I'll look at as the biggest win of my career."
Murray and Federer had met exactly four weeks earlier on the same lawn, now browner at the baseline so when Murray's shots flirted with the line -- the depth on his backhand was exceptional -- wisps of dust would fly into the air. Murray had won the first set in that Wimbledon final, but squandered a couple of break points at 4-4 in the second set and was summarily dismissed in four. In the on-court interview after the match, Murray broke down, choking out the words, "I'm getting closer."
Now the fourth-ranked player in the world is officially there, pushing the Sisyphean boulder up Mount Murray -- formerly Henman Hill -- and watching it roll down the other side and crush Federer. His ability to absorb shots struck with pace and return them with extra-hot mustard plus his terrific balance seemed to take whatever life was left in Federer after his 266-minute semifinal Friday against Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro.
Now Murray has won a tournament at Wimbledon -- and in a sense of Wimbledon -- but it was definitely not Wimbledon. You could be certain by the truncated week-long event, denying American writers the chance to use the word "fortnight"; the best-of-three-set format until the final; the limit of four players per country; the magenta Olympic signage; the different scoreboard; the colored on-court outfits; and a rather more colorful -- albeit knowledgeable -- crowd, which, moments after Murray closed out the match, serenaded him with "We Love You Andy," sung to that annoying tune from
Maybe Murray performed so brilliantly precisely because this wasn't Wimbledon.
During the Wimbledon fortnight, the United Kingdom is basically Murray 24/7, an annual Andy-thon celebrating the British hopes that a championship might arrive this year. But on Saturday, Team Great Britain won six Olympic gold medals. Six. The morning papers did not exactly stick Murray back next to the truss ads, but he was buried behind pages of track-and-field and cycling coverage. Fervent British wishes had not been diminished, but there were so many other things going on in this five-ringed circus grafted onto a land intoxicated by its sporting success that the Murray-Federer sequel was just one more event. For the first time, Centre Court was almost on the periphery.
"I did feel much more relaxed going into today's match than I did going into the Wimbledon final," Murray said.
Almost everything seemed to fall on Murray's side of the net, except for those let cords that kept trickling over to Federer's side. At noon, heavy showers obliged Venus and Serena Williams to play their doubles final under the roof, but glorious sunshine and a swirling breeze in an open stadium greeted Murray and Federer by the time they began warming up for their 17th career match. Federer, the perfectionist, seems to thrive in climate-controlled conditions; he is 25-0 in indoor tournament matches dating to Nov. 13, 2010, when he lost at an ATP event in Paris. Indeed, Murray had expressed a preference for "fresh air" the previous day, which he probably helped provide with some of his passing shots.
Murray saved two break points in the opening game but rarely was inconvenienced further except in the third game of the second set. Coming off a break of Federer in the previous game, Murray faced six break points of his own before finally escaping. In the third set, he lost just one point on his serve, finishing the match with a flourish of two aces. He then stooped, crouched and shook his fists skyward. While it wasn't the full Bjorn Borg-prone that has become the post-match celebratory position of choice of Grand Slam champions since the mid-1970s ... well, this wasn't quite Wimbledon, either.
No apologies from Murray, though.
"I would love to win Wimbledon, for sure," he said. "But this felt good. I wouldn't change this for anything right now, that's for sure."