Andy Murray discovered he can still “cry like Roger” Federer but “can’t play like him” as his dreams of ending “150,000 years” of hurt died on a floodlit arena at Wimbledon on Sunday.
Two years after blubbing his way through a runners-up speech at the Australian Open, tears of despair were flowing again on Centre Court after Murray’s brave effort to end Britain’s 76-year search for a men’s grand slam champion unravelled under the spell of Federer’s magic.
As the beaming Swiss hoisted the gilded Challenge Cup for a record-equaling seventh time - drawing level with his hero Pete Sampras and William Renshaw - Murray looked skywards wondering what might have been.
Federer’s 4-6 7-5 6-3 6-4 win left Murray sobbing, 15,000 Centre Court ticket holders deflated and 60 million Britons wondering if, and when, this agonising search for a men’s champion at one of the four majors will ever end.
Since Fred Perry won the last of his eight grand slams at the 1936 U.S. Championships, 286 majors have come and gone without a British men’s champion in sight.
Winners have emerged from Egypt to Ecuador, from Romania to Mexico, from Croatia to South Africa, from Hungary to Argentina. Twenty two different nations have lorded over all and sundry.
But the country that hosts the most famous tennis tournament in the world has effectively become a laughing stock for failing to produce a male champion for more than three quarters of a century.
“What is it? Like, 150,000 years?,” Federer had jovially quipped on the eve of beating Murray at the 2010 Melbourne Park final.
When Federer realised that Murray would be in his firing line again on Sunday, he warmed up for the challenge by saying: “I always say in whatever country I am I like to play the local hero and Andy is exactly that here at Wimbledon.”
Federer toyed with Murray in the first set, teased him with break points in the second, tortured him during a tension-soaked 21-minute game in the third before trampling him in the fourth.
It was no wonder that Murray was a tearful wreck at the end of the three-hour 24-minute contest which left Federer celebrating an astonishing 17th grand slam triumph and the Briton being consoled by 15,000 sympathetic fans.
“I’m going to try this - it isn’t going to be easy,” Murray told the crowd as he tried to hold back tears to get through his runners-up speech.
“I was told the other day that ‘this is your best chance because Roger is 30 now.’ He’s not bad for a 30-year-old. He had some struggles early on (this tournament) with his back and today he showed us what fight he has got left in him.
“I’m going to start crying again... Everybody always talks about the pressure of playing at Wimbledon, how tough it is, ... the people watching make it so much easier to play - they make it incredible,” Murray added as he was given a rapturous round of applause that had tried to lift their man throughout a match that started under grey skies and finished under a close roof.
While there is no shame in losing a Wimbledon final to a player hailed by many as the greatest of all time, for Murray the task of finally ending his grand slam jinx after four final defeats will no doubt get harder and harder, especially since he has won only one of the 13 final sets he has contested.
He also matched the miserable record of his coach Ivan Lendl, the only other man in the professional era who lost his first four grand slam finals.
While Murray will take heart that Lendl went on to win eight grand slam titles, at the age of 25 and playing in an era hailed as the greatest, time is fast running out.
But if Murray started to have any doubts, his conqueror on Sunday offered some words of encouragement.
“I really do believe deep down in me he will win grand slams, not just one. I do wish him all the best. This is genuine. He works extremely hard,” Federer said after becoming the first 30-something since Arthur Ashe in 1975 to win the men’s crown.
“Things just didn’t quite turn out for him in the finals that he hoped for. But today I’m sure he got another step closer to a grand slam title for him. I really do believe and hope for him that he’s going to win one soon.”