Once more, they thronged up the hill, with their hampers, their panama hats and sensible shoes. This time, though, they had come more in expectation than hope. And they were proved gloriously right. More than one newspaper had called on Andy Murray to save the country from gloom. Not for the first time, he delivered.
Having brutally closed out victory in straight sets against his big-serving Canadian opponent Milos Raonic, Murray raised his arms to the skies, dropped his racket to the floor and tried to take in his huge achievement.
Ivan Lendl – the man who has been in his corner for each of his three grand slam victories – finally got to his feet and smiled thinly. There might have even been the hint of a glaze in the eye of the famously stony-faced former champion, his charge having defeated that of his old sparring partner John McEnroe.
As an achievement, it was towering: Murray indisputably joining the very top tier of the best of the best that Britain has produced. As an occasion, it sometimes felt oddly straightforward as a giddy Centre Court crowd kicked back to watch history in the making. All those years, all that heartache and yet here was Murray, confidently marching to his second title.
Not that Murray cared. Pitted against three of the greatest players to ever play the game, he has kept growing and kept going. And this was his reward: finally, a final against a player who was not one of that towering triumvirate.
Yet if it had gone wrong, the consequences for his confidence could have been catastrophic. Just two men in the open era had lost more grand slam finals than Murray’s eight. One of them, Lendl, was sitting in his box. The other, Roger Federer, has won far more than he has lost. Most of Murray’s finals have been anguished affairs studded by tears and tantrums, weighed down heavily by the hand of history. Not so here. His rangy Canadian opponent did not freeze but Murray’s tenacious returning and inspired shotmaking was just too good.
Beneath slate grey skies that swiftly gave way to sunshine, Murray generated his own momentum, pumping his fist and roaring to his box whenever he flashed a winner cross court or forced Raonic into an error – which was often. Only when Murray was forced to save his first break points of the match did the crowd feel the need to intervene. Suddenly, in the third set and with victory on the horizon, the volume rose.
When Murray played a one-handed backhand down the line to wrestle back control of the game, they erupted. Lendl nodded. Otherwise, the lucky few on Centre Court seemed content to sit back and watch Murray take care of business, saving their acclaim for the inevitable denouement.
This was not the novel, raw experience of 2012 when, during the precursor to that golden Olympic summer, Murray went down in tear‑stained defeat against Federer beneath the roof.
Nor was it the manic, otherworldly, dreamlike swirl of his historic 2013 triumph over Novak Djokovic that laid to rest the ghost of Fred Perry and 77 years of men’s history. Instead, this was a case study in dealing with a different kind of pressure. That of being favourite. “I think I handled it pretty well,” Murray said with characteristic understatement as he clutched the trophy to his chest afterwards.
His relieved mother, Judy, also said she was able to enjoy his triumph in a way that had been impossible in 2013.
Watching approvingly were other ghosts of Centre Court past – aside from Lendl and McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg were all in the Royal Box. Down in the corner, the outgoing prime minister, David Cameron, looked morose – as though taking the time to process what had happened in the past fortnight beyond SW19 – and received a mixed reception from his fellow spectators.
Raonic, too, could not help but appear bemused as Murray scurried back and forth returning whatever the Canadian could throw at him and then flashing winners past his feet. In truth, it only ever felt like there was going to be one winner. If Irn Bru is brewed in Scotland from girders, Murray must have been minted in Dunblane in granite. As they toasted his success here with champagne, he created his own internal pressure to see him home – ranting at his box at the end of the second set.
Off court, Murray remains as unaffected as a wildly driven elite sportsperson with $50m in the bank can be. He negotiates the inanity of the Wimbledon press room with aplomb. Asked last week whether he was bothered that the Henman Hill tag still persisted, he laughed. “He’s welcome to it.”
Up on that hill, though, they celebrated his victory with fervour. When Raonic described Murray as a “workaholic” before the final, it sounded like faint praise. But it was in many ways the ultimate compliment to a player who has relentlessly made the most of his natural talent. His consistency threatens to inure us to the scale of his achievement. Perhaps it will only be fully appreciated when his success is no longer a fixture here, year after extraordinary year.