All that '2nd' talk is done, Andy Murray is No. 1

Andy Murray of Great Britain returns a shot

Andy Murray of Great Britain returns a shot during his men's singles final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia. (Sept. 10, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

Do not tell Andy Murray that nobody remembers who finishes second in sports. In four previous Grand Slam finals, his failure to take a major-tournament title branded Murray with that cruel tag: Loser of the Big One.

So Monday night, the poltergeist of disappointment rattled in Murray's head throughout an excruciatingly tight and lengthy U.S. Open final against defending champion Novak Djokovic. Before their 4-hour, 54-minute struggle -- even in the midst of it -- Murray said, "You're still questioning yourself and doubting yourself."

As Djokovic saved five set points in the first-set tiebreaker; as Djokovic rallied back from a 0-4 deficit to push the second set to 5-6 before Murray at last prevailed; as Djokovic kept chipping -- hammering, really -- away at Murray's two-set lead to insist on a deciding fifth set, there was every possibility that Murray could end up faced with the familiar query of: When?

Murray laughed. "I'm happy not to be asked that stupid question again," he said.

After the 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 technical knockout over his former junior-tennis rival and former practice partner, Murray said: "Relief is probably the best word I'd use to describe how I feel. If I'd lost this one, that would've been a tough one to take."

To Djokovic: "There is no doubt that Andy deserved to win a Grand Slam. Over the years, he's been a top player, he's been so close. I'm happy that he won it. I mean it. He has proved today he is a champion, no question about it."

A native Scot, Murray easily has been among the world's top tennis practitioners since winning the U.S. Open boys championship in 2004, and Britain's most accomplished player since Fred Perry in the 1930s. Still, in the grand tradition of spectator sports' attachment to winning, Murray long has generated conflicted feelings, especially in the sport's birthplace.

Two years ago, when Wimbledon hired a poet laureate named Matt Harvey to rhapsodize about the world's oldest tournament, Harvey included this slyly ambivalent verse about Murray:

If he's ever brattish/

And brutish and skittish,/

He's Scottish./

But if he looks fittish,/

And his form is hottish,/

He's British.

"I've had many tough losses," Murray said. "I've played tennis since in Spain when I was 15, so about 10 years I've been playing. I've had a lot of doubts after losing."

No less than Roger Federer, who has won a record 17 of these heavyweight duels, admitted last week that until he had gotten his first trophy, there was plenty of fear that he never would win any.

John Isner, the top-ranked American who hasn't yet gotten close to a major title, recently dismissed a question about "the art" of winning a Slam event by saying, "I don't know anything about the art; I've never done it."

At the beginning of this year, Murray hired eight-time major champion Ivan Lendl as coach, in part because Lendl was the only other player in the open era -- since 1968 -- who also lost the first four Grand Slam finals he contested.

"I've spoken to him about playing in the big events," Murray said, "losing to top players in big matches. He went through it himself. So to have someone like that in your corner, I don't feel bad about those losses. Before, when I lost in Slam finals, I struggled for a few weeks, sometimes months afterwards."

No more. He's Scottish. And British. And a Slam champion.