If Andy Murray was going to win his first Grand Slam title, the time was now. He had gone up two sets to none against Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, in the U.S. Open final Monday night. And now it was two sets apiece after four hours of play.
Time to dig deep. Time to put into play whatever his tough-as-nails coach Ivan Lendl had told him about technique and toughness. Especially toughness.
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With Lendl watching cement-faced from the players box, Murray came through, just as Lendl believed he could.
In a match that started in daylight in summer and ended at night in early winter, Murray outlasted Djokovic, 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2. He's the first British male player to win a major since Fred Perry won Wimbledon in 1936.
"You are in a little bit of disbelief because when I have been in that position many times before and not won, you don't think it is ever going to happen,'' Murray said. "When it finally does, you're obviously very, very excited.''
Lendl was hired by Murray last December. Like Murray, Lendl lost his first four Grand Slam finals before going on to win eight of them. He doesn't explain what he does with Murray. He does say Murray has talent beyond his strokes. "He has the talent for hard work,'' Lendl said after the match.
Lendl said a key for signing on with Murray was his confidence that Murray had the means to be a champion. "I believed from the beginning,'' he said.
The match lasted 4 hours, 54 minutes, tying the record in an Open final held by Lendl and Mats Wilander in 1988. The first set lasted 1:27, 14 minutes longer than Djokovic's first match two weeks ago against Paolo Lorenzi. The chilly north wind was bothersome and seemed to flummox Djokovic more than Murray. Countless times he seemed to awkwardly twist in a pretzel trying to hit shots on his backhand.
Murray got a break in the fifth game when Djokovic double-faulted, and held serve in the next game that featured a 54-hit rally won by Djokovic. Djokovic broke Murray in the eighth game and the set eventually went to a tiebreak. Djokovic was up 5-3 before Murray won three straight points to earn his first set point. But it took him until his sixth set point to cash in.
In the second set, Murray broke Djokovic twice to run out to a 4-0 lead. But Djokovic broke back in the fifth and ninth games. Murray, however, got a break for the set in the 12th.
Still, Djokovic wasn't done. He broke Murray twice in the third, often preening after winning a big point, and when he served out the set, there was the feeling that he was ahead.
Djokovic was aggressive in the fourth set. Even when he lost points, he ran down balls that seemed as far away as Citi Field. He broke Murray in the ninth game to send the match to a fifth set, 2:30 after the first ended.
Djokovic was on a streak of 8-0 in five-set matches, but Murray was in the same spot he was after two sets, just one set from the title. When he needed to most, Murray lifted his game.
He broke Djokovic twice in the fifth, hitting harder than he had all night to lead 3-0. But Djokovic got a break and toughed out a hold. Murray got to triple match point in the eighth game and when Djokovic returned long on the second match point, Murray had his title.
"He deserved to win this Grand Slam more than anybody, I'm sure, because over the years, he's been a top player,'' Djokovic said. "He's been so close; lost in four finals. Now he has won it, so I would like to congratulate him.''