On Sunday 8th July 2012, after three hours and 24 minutes on court, a wayward forehand from a 25 year old Scot saw his dream crushed for the fourth time in as many years. Roger Federer was the Wimbledon champion for a record seventh time, and a heart-broken Andy Murray was to break down in tears as he pondered on another hammer blow to his hopes of ending 76 years of hurt. Not for the first time, the critics questioned if he would ever win a grand slam.
Few could have dreamed what would happen just 12 months later.
What a difference a year makes.
img1.jpgA golden triumph
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After a promising start to his relationship with Ivan Lendl, Murray’s form had dipped and a disappointing clay season was followed by a shock second round exit to the exuberant Frenchman Nicolas Mahut at Queens. People were now beginning to question if this partnership was really working, with some claiming the Brit had actually regressed in the past few months.
Murray’s response was quick to silence them.
The tournament would see one of the shocks of the century as Rafael Nadal crashed out in five incredible sets to world #100 Lukas Rosol in the second round. And the Scot took full advantage, carving through the draw before making history when he defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a thrilling semi-final, becoming the first British man to make a Wimbledon singles final in 74 years.
Unfortunately he was unable to go one step further, but a spirited performance saw him take the first set – his first in ten attempts in a grand slam final – and he had chances to take the second before the match fell away from him. Rain saw the roof closed and after the players returned to court it was Roger Federer who stepped it up, coming back to win in four sets to claim a historic 17th grand slam title. A despairing Murray was reduced to tears as he attempted to thank the crowd, and for the first time the nation really saw Andrew Barron Murray the human being. The man with the world on his shoulders, the man who had sacrificed everything and more to achieve his dream, the man who took more mental battering than any one man could expect to take, yet refused to give in. For the first time they saw how much it really meant to him.
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The Scot’s response was nothing short of inspirational.
Just three weeks later, he was back out on Centre Court taking on the Swiss number two Stanislas Wawrinka as the Olympics came to London. But if the critics thought he was going to dwell on the Wimbledon final, they were sorely mistaken. A fired up Murray disposed of Wawrinka in straight sets, before sweeping through Jarkko NIeminen, Marcos Baghdatis and Nicolas Almagro to set up a semi-final showdown with old foe Novak Djokovic, with an Olympic medal on offer. But Murray was just getting better and better, and delivered a dazzling performance as he edged a gripping match 7-5, 7-5 to secure his place in the medal match.
And who would be waiting in the final, but the very man that had crushed his hopes just a mere four weeks earlier.
There was a lot at stake. Murray stood in the way of the only honour Federer had yet to receive in his illustrious career – a singles gold medal. For the Scot, it was a chance to avenge the Wimbledon final and prove to the world that he had what it took to win a five set match in a major final (figuratively speaking). It was to be a riveting battle. Or so everyone believed.
If Murray had not received the full crowd support during the Wimbledon final, he definitely had it now. 15,000 fans roared him on as, just as in the Wimbledon final, he took the opening set, racing to a 6-2 lead. The Brit was in the zone, hammering forehands and passing Federer with exquisitely angled groundstrokes; overpowering the world number one. The crowd waited for Federer to respond, or for Murray to fade – the way Murray had so often done before on these occasions.
But there was to be no comeback this time. Murray was in scintillating form and he tore Federer apart limb from limb, trouncing the 17 time slam champion. The second set was even more convincing – the Scot taking it 6-1 – and few could really believe what they were seeing. Federer finally started to put up a fight in the third set, but by then it was too late and a break in the fifth game was enough to seal his fate. Murray served it out with an ace and then put his head in his hands, his racquet tumbling to the floor. He was the Olympic champion.
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As he said himself, it was the biggest win of his career. His first major breakthrough. He had annihilated one of tennis’ greatest ever icons on a global stage. And for the first time in a long time, it seemed his fans really started to believe that he was finally ready to go one step further on the biggest stage and win that elusive grand slam. Could this give him the belief he needed to turn him from tennis’ greatest nearly man to grand slam champion?
img4.jpgHistory is made at the US Open
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Murray had no time to recover due to the poor calendar scheduling, jetting straight out to Canada to take part in the Toronto Masters. After winning his first match without much fuss, it was of little surprise when he withdrew from his next match. A disappointing exit to Jeremy Chardy followed in Cincinatti, meaning that just like at Wimbledon, the Scot went into the US Open without ideal practice having played just three matches on the hard courts.
But once again, he silenced his doubters as he powered through the draw, surviving a mammoth scare in round three and providing the comeback of the tournament in the quarter-finals. Bogomolov Jr. and Dodig were disposed of for the loss of just 13 games in the opening rounds, before a meeting with old pal Feliciano Lopez that was expected to be as straight-forward as their previous encounters. And so it seemed, albeit a little closer than many had hoped, with Murray edging the opening two sets on tie-breaks. But the Brit seemed to run out of steam in set three, throwing away a break to lose it 4-6 before clinging on in set four, managing to fend the Spaniard off time and time again. And he eventually sealed it dramatic fashion, finding a stunning pass up 5-4 in the tie-break before Lopez netted on match point. The relief was palpable.
His fourth round opponent Raonic was expected to provide a tougher test, with the Canadian having already defeated Murray earlier in the year. But the Olympic Murray re-emerged, and he thrashed young pretender for the loss of 10 games. In the quarters he faced another player he had a lopsided head-to-head against in Marin Cilic… and just like against Lopez, things did not go smoothly. The Croat raced into a 6-3, 5-1 lead and had multiple set points before Murray came roaring back, winning 18 of the next 21 games to surge into the semi-finals where he was expected to face Roger Federer for the first time since the Olympics.
But it was not the world number one he would face, but the Czech Tomas Berdych who had ousted the Swiss man in four sets. In incredibly blustery conditions the world number seven started the stronger, taking the first set 6-4. But once again Murray battled back, mastering the conditions as he raced through the next two sets for the loss of just three games. The match seemed to be all but over after an early break in set four, but after saving yet more break points Berdych suddenly found something within himself and came flying back, levelling the set before taking it to a tie-break. But Murray’s new-found resilience came to the fore again, and the Brit saved a set point in aggressive fashion before sealing the match on his first match point to make his second slam final of 2012.
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Grand slam final number five. No man had ever lost his first five grand slam finals. History was going to be made by the Brit, whatever the outcome. But despite the numerous knock-backs, there was a real belief around the Murray camp – and his fans – as he got ready to take on old rival Novak Djokovic for the 15th time in their careers. He had got one monkey off his back in July when he won his first set in a slam final, and there was a new air of belief in the man from Dunblane this time around. He was ready.
They went back and forth, battering each other off the court, unbreakable defence and jaw-dropping counter-attack as both desperately looked to take a pivotal first set. And it was Murray who would take it, seizing the tie-break 10-8 on his sixth set point after an unbelievable 87 minute duel. Full of confidence, the Brit began to surge ahead, Djokovic struggling to keep with Murray’s raw power as the Scot raced into a 4-0 lead in set two. But just as his camp really started to believe, back came Djokovic. The Serb started getting impossible balls back, and Murray wiltered, surrendering the advantage as the world number two brought it back to 5-5. But in a set that would magnificently mirror the entire match, Murray dug deep within himself to hold for a 6-5 lead, before forging out two set points on the Djokovic serve. And a wild forehand from the Serb was all Murray needed. At Wimbledon he had taken his first set in a slam final, now here in New York he had taken two. He was one set away.
But Djokovic was not going to go down without a fight. The sleeping lion awoke, and the defending champion came roaring back as Murray tired. The Brit was running out of energy and Djokovic knew it, pummelling the Scot from one side of the court to the other. Third set to Djokovic, 6-2. He was a man on a mission now and Murray couldn’t live with him, succumbing to an early break in set four before surrendering the set – and his lead – to another break when attempting to serve to stay in it. No man had come back to win from two sets down in a slam final since Murray’s mentor Ivan Lendl in 1984, but Djokovic was on the charge. This now four and three minute epic was going the distance. A one set shoot-out. If Murray was to win, he was going to have dig deep within himself – deeper than ever before – and somehow find a way to turn this match back on its head.
Another incredible rally ended with Murray hammering a forehand beyond Djokovic’s reach to bring up an early break point, and Djokovic duly errored to hand Murray a huge first break of the decider. The perfect response. Suddenly the belief was back, and an invigorated Murray defended against an onslaught from the Serb as he looked to break straight back. The defending champion eventually netted, and it was met by a huge roar from Murray, pumping up the crowd. Now it was Djokovic who was wiltering, and another long rally at the end of a long game ended with yet another Djokovic error to give Murray the double break. His fans had dared to dream. Now it was more than a dream. He was on the brink.
But back came Djokovic, yet again. The Serb broke straight back, and a fiery hold put the pressure right back on the Scot. But Murray’s response was phenomenal. Four successive unreturnable serves made it 4-2, and the stuffing seemed to be knocked out of Djokovic. It was one fight-back too far. Sensing his moment, Murray stepped it up again and the Serb couldn’t live with him, surrendering his serve for the third time of the set. Murray was serving for the title. A backhand volley bounced out of Djokovic's reached to make it 15-0. A hawk-eye over-rule on an unbelievable serve revealed it had clipped the very outside corner of the service box. Ace. 30-0. A Djokovic error and it was 40-0. Three championship points. He had sacrificed so much, spent his entire life working for this moment. The first was saved, but a wild Djokovic return on the next was enough. The moment that many claimed would never happen, had happened.
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There were no tears, no over-the-top show of emotion, no shirt-ripping or celebrations. Just pure and utter shock, and a little bit of relief. The Brit crouched down, head in hands, trying to take it all in. The dream, everything he had worked towards, everything he, his team and his fans had been through – it was now a reality. 76 years of hurt was over. Britain had a grand slam champion once again. Andy Murray was the US Open champion.
An unbelievable end to an unbelievable summer. A brief but well-deserved break followed, before the Brit set out to Asia where he had dominated a year previous. In Tokyo he fell to a disappointing exit to Milos Raonic, having had a match point on the Canadian’s serve. But it mattered little. It was insignificant in comparison to what he had achieved a few weeks earlier. Murray went to Shanghai and would go all the way to the final, taking out Roger Federer in straight sets for the second time in succession. But there he suffered a heart-breaking three set loss to Djokovic, having had a whopping five match points in the second set. A trip to Paris ended in a shock third round exit to relatively unknown Pole Jerzy Janowicz, again having held match points – the third tournament in succession he had lost from match point up.
The Scot ended the year with a semi-final defeat to Federer in London, allowing him the chance to finally recover and look ahead to 2013, the first season where he could really go into it with no huge weight on his shoulders. A re-assessment of his targets was perhaps in order. Now he had got the grand slam monkey off his back, he was ready to go after arguably the biggest tournament on the planet. Wimbledon.
img7.jpgBattling success and injury woes
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The Scot started the year in fine fashion, defending his Brisbane crown with a close 7-6(0), 6-4 defeat of rising star Grigor Dimitrov, before heading out to Melbourne where he was looking to make it two slams in a row.
Murray had tended to produce some of his best tennis at the Australian Open, a tournament where he seems to appear completely at home. The world number three breezed through his draw, taking out Haase, Sousa, Berankis, Simon and Chardy without dropping a single set to set up another battle with Roger Federer. The Swiss remained the only member of the ‘big four’ that Murray had yet to defeat in a grand slam, despite a winning head-to-head. It was time to put an end to that once and for all.
The Scottish man started the stronger, playing aggressive tennis and looking to hit Federer off the court. He took the first set with little fuss but was unable to break through in the second, and a woeful volley at a critical point in the tie-break allowed Federer to level it up. Murray regrouped, and with Federer struggling to make any impact against his serve the Brit was able to regain the advantage, a break in game six proving pivotal. The world number two responded, finally breaking through early in the fourth. But back Murray came, breaking twice to give himself the chance to serve for the match. A moment of confusion followed, with Federer letting out a torrent of frustration at the Brit and Murray seemed to lose focus, blowing the break and then offering little fight in the tie-break. Into a decider it went. But Murray was simply too good. He regrouped once again, refusing to be deterred, and raced away to take the set 6-2 – and with it the match. There was no celebration from Murray this time, no emotion – merely a clenched fist and a steely glance to his box. As far as he was concerned, this was merely par for the course. The real battle was on Sunday.
With the win Murray became the first man in the open era to reach the next slam final after winning his first slam. Another piece of history to add to the growing collection. He had now also made his third successive grand slam final. Novak Djokovic awaited once again, looking to avenge that famous defeat in New York.
With almost nothing to separate them, the first two sets were shared, both going the way of a tie-break. But it was the Serbian man who eventually forged ahead as Murray struggled to live with the three-time champion. Djokovic was beginning to dominate, taking the third set with little contest before breaking immediately in the fourth. Murray resisted for as long as possible, but he couldn’t find a way back and Djokovic eventually sealed his third successive Australian Open title. Not to be for Murray, but still plenty of positives to take from the tournament.
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A long break followed, with the Brit opting not to play Dubai this year. He returned in March, crashing out to an on-form Juan Martin Del Potro in Indian Wells, getting blown off the court in the deciding set and winning just one game. The Argentine would go on to lose to Rafael Nadal in the final, with the Spaniard marking his return on the big stage coming off a run of tournaments in South America.
The British number one had more success in Miami, taking out Tomic, Dimitrov, Seppi, Cilic and Gasquet to make the final, where he faced an unlikely opponent in David Ferrer. But what many naïvely predicted to be a straight-forward win for the Brit proved to be anything but, with Ferrer dominating the opening set, taking it 6-2. Murray fought back in the second set and eventually edged it 6-4, taking it to an incredible, almost comical deciding set. In difficult conditions neither player could hold serve, with six successive breaks of serve before Ferrer eventually held. Murray held his own to keep things all square at 4-4, before breaking yet again to serve for the match. But Ferrer broke straight back, before carving out a 6-5 lead. Murray had gone from serving for the title to serving to stay in the match, and a poor couple of points gave Ferrer championship point. But drama ensued as the Spaniard made a bizarre challenge in the middle of a tense rally. HawkEye revealed Murray’s shot was in. Championship point was saved and the Brit dragged it to a final set tie-break. And Murray’s incredible fortitude came to the fore as Ferrer folded - the Spaniard perhaps still playing out that Championship point in his mind – as Murray raced into a 6-1 lead before sealing the title with a backhand winner. It was the Brit’s first Masters title in nearly 18 months, having not won one since the Shanghai title back in 2011. The win also lifted Murray above Roger Federer in the rankings, seeing him return to number two in the world for the first time since 2009.
The dreaded clay season loomed once again, and any hopes of Murray improving on his mediocre 2012 performances on the surface were quickly quelled as the Brit was humiliated by Stanislas Wawrinka in Monte Carlo, winning just three games. A close defeat to Tomas Berdych followed in the Madrid quarter-finals, and it was fast becoming apparent that the Brit was struggling with a seeming re-emergence of the back injuries that so affected his 2012 clay campaign. Having wrestled back a set and a break deficit to world number 37 Marcel Granollers in Rome, the Brit then retired, and days later he pulled out of Roland Garros to the worry of the British public. It would be the first grand slam he’d missed since 2007, and there were now worries if he’d be fit in time for Wimbledon.
img9.jpgAn unforgettable summer
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Thankfully Murray was able to recover in time for the grass court season, and returned to Queens where against all the odds he was somehow drawn against Nicolas Mahut for the second year running. But this time there would be no lacklustre exit, as the Brit saw off the spirited Frenchman in straight sets, before thrashing Matosevic later on in the day. The Scot had company from fellow Brit Dan Evans who would make the third round, before bowing out to Del Potro. Murray saw off the tenacious German Benjamin Becker in the quarters before a rematch with Tsonga in the semis, whom he had defeated in the 2011 final. Tsonga started better and took the opening set, but Murray responded and came back to claim the victory in three sets.
A struggle in the final against Marin Cilic saw him go a set and a break down, and it looked like the Croatian might get the better of him this time. But Murray showed his champion’s mentality as he so often does, fighting back to steal the second set 7-5 before sealing the third to secure his third Queens title. The Brit then re-appeared after the match alongside Tim Henman to play a charity match against coach Ivan Lendl and Czech Tomas Berdych in aide of his good friend Ross Hutchins, where he would secure his second win of the day.
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And so to Wimbledon. How far he’d come since a year ago. This year Murray went into Wimbledon – for the first time – as a grand slam champion and having won 17 of his last 18 grass court matches. And for the first time, it was almost impossible to split the big four. Nadal was the form man, having torn the sport up since his return in February, Federer was the defending champion and was fresh off his first title of the year in Halle, and Djokovic was Djokovic, the immovable force.
With Nadal seeded fifth the draw was eagerly awaited. And it was Federer who drew the short straw, with both ending up in Murray’s half. But in the end it didn’t matter one bit.
No-one could have predicted what would happen in the opening three days.
Nadal crashed out in straight sets in the first round to world number 135 Steve Darcis – unprecedented for the great Spaniard. And then a day later Federer followed him out, sent tumbling in four sets by Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky, ranked 116 in the world, in his earliest Wimbledon exit in 11 years. The tennis world was in shock. Suddenly the big four were beatable – the aura was gone, smashed into a million pieces.
But whilst everyone around him was crashing out – with Tsonga, Cilic and Sharapova the latest to fall – Murray was powering through his draw, unpertubed. Becker was beaten in straights, as was Lu. A mesmorising performance from the Brit saw him glide past the in-form Tommy Robredo, before Murray’s first mini-scare against Mikhael Youzhny in round four. Having won the first set, the Brit struggled in the second, as resurgent Ukrainian found his feet and surged into a 5-2 lead, looking in complete control. But Murray dug deep and found a way to turn it round, saving the second set and eventually coasting through in three. But it was a warning.
It wouldn’t be a Murray slam without a rollercoaster of a match somewhere along the way. In the quarter-finals he came up against former top 10 player Fernando Verdasco, who had fallen on hard times of late, finding himself down at #54 in the rankings. But the Spaniard was re-discovering some of the old form that saw him make the Australian Open semi-finals in 2008, and Murray was seemingly unprepared. For two sets the Spaniard blew him off the court, playing sublime tennis as Murray chased shadows. The Scot recovered in set three – taking it for the loss of a single game – but Verdasco found his feet again the fourth set, and the match hung in the balance.
Some wayward hitting from Murray down 2-3 gave Verdasco break point. A huge moment. Murray responded with a huge unreturnable serve. Some huge hitting from Verdasco earned him another. But Murray would just not give in. This time an ace, right down the tee. Murray clung on, and then seized his opportunity. Some big hitting of his own forced the errors, and the Scot broke. That was all he required, going on to serve it out to love to level the match. Verdasco still wouldn’t go away, and a tense fifth set followed. But a glance at the steely, determined look on Murray’s face was all you needed to know. He wasn’t going to let this one slip away. Both players traded blows, waiting to see which one would slip first. And it was Verdasco. A pulsating rally at 5-5 ended with the Spaniard netting, and Murray had break point. The world number two seized his chance, breaking at the first opportunity, before serving it out to love. The comeback was complete. He was into his sixth successive Wimbledon semi-final.
With Nadal and Federer both early victims of this crazy Wimbledon, it was rising star Jerzy Janowicz who emerged from that section. The Pole had already beaten Murray back in November, and was playing some inspired tennis. Despite his relative lowly ranking of 22, he was a big threat. And so it proved. Janowicz started like a house on fire, firing down bullets and pulling the home favourite around like a ragdoll with his massive forehand and exquisite drop shots. First set Janowicz. But back came Murray, breaking immediately in the second and despite heavy pressure from the Pole, he managed to hold on to his own serve to eventually level up the proceedings. Now it was Janowicz’s turn to respond, and respond he did, once again asserting himself on the match, racing into a 4-1 lead in the third. But Murray dug deep, as he always does, and somewhere, somehow, managed to find his best tennis when he needed it most. He came surging back, reeling off five games in succession to take the third set 6-4. And despite the controversy and distraction of the roof closing – after much urging from Janowicz – Murray carried on where he left off, sealing his place in the final with a forehand return winner, reminiscent of the one a year ago that had lifted him into his first Wimbledon final.
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Wimbledon. The holy grail of British sport. 77 years and counting since Fred Perry thrashed the German von Cramm for the loss of just two games. The thought of a Briton ever reclaiming it seemed like a pipe dream, something for films or fantasies. Most people accepted that it was probably something they’d never see in their lifetime.
Murray had other ideas.
Despite all the upsets, withdrawals and uproar, it was the top two in the world who would contest the final. Perhaps it should have been expected, given the two had now contested three of the last four grand slam finals. But this time there was one extra factor. 15,000 vociferous fans, roaring the Scottish lion on. Unrelenting, overwhelming, reminiscent of the incredible Olympic atmosphere of a year before. Willing Murray to finally achieve something no living Brit had ever achieved.
And boy did he deliver.
An immediate break was quickly surrendered, but Murray continued to attack the Djokovic serve and in the crucial seventh game he broke again, roaring to his box. The Serb threw everything at Murray, desperate to recover it again, but Murray refused to let him back in. Two break points were quickly averted; Murray delivering big when it mattered the most, firing down an ace on the first and a volley winner on the second. And Djokovic was struggling; the world number one seemed unable to cope with the support and the atmosphere inside centre court. He was making errors he didn’t usually make. A third break point was fended off, Murray hammering forehands to Djokovic’s backhand side, rushing into the net to fire away the volley. The Brit eventually held on to his own serve, before serving it out to love minutes later. First blood to the Brit. The crowd were on their feet. There was an air of excitement around the ground. This felt different to last year. It felt that this time nothing was going to stop him.
Djokovic is one of the sport’s greatest ever fighters, and the world number one battled back. He raced into a 4-1 lead in the second set, and looked to be well on his way to levelling things up. But Murray came charging back, bringing up a break point with a blistering forehand on the run that left Djokovic on the floor. Suddenly it was 4-4, and Murray had the wind in his sails. The pressure was unrelenting, and at 5-5, Djokovic crumbled. The Scot was throwing everything at him and after an emphatic volley gave Murray 15-30, Djokovic lost it, raging to the umpire about a shot that had clipped the back of the baseline. The Serb folded, and Murray broke. He was serving for the second set. Was he nervous? He showed no sign, serving it out with an ace as a roar from Henman Hill could be heard in the distance. Two sets to love. The atmosphere was electric.
When Murray broke immediately in the third it seemed too good to be true. And so it proved, as Djokovic came battling back once again. The Serb reeled off four games in succession for a 4-2 lead, and again he threatened to come back into the match. But Murray just would not let him. The great Scot came roaring back, breaking Djokovic for the sixth time to get back in the set. And the Serb’s resolve finally seemed to waver. At 4-4, 15-30 he seemed to have the point won, but Murray’s unbelievable athleticism showed again as he chased down a drop shot before firing a forehand down the line. If the roof had been on, the centre court crowd would have taken it off. It got to Djokovic, and he duly fired a forehand into the net. Murray was serving for the championship.
The final game will be remembered for years to come. Three championship points came and went, and suddenly the Brit was facing break points as Djokovic threatened to come back yet again. It was heart-in-mouth stuff. Murray saved three break points, but Djokovic came back again, pulling the Brit off the court and opening up for a smash that would give him a fourth. But somehow he could only hit it back into Murray’s grasp, and the Brit fired a vicious backhand right back at him, before chasing down the desperate volley to fire a forehand down the line. Championship point number four. And this time there was no mistake. Djokovic’s backhand could only find the net, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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It was almost impossible to take in the magnitude of the achievement. The impossible was now a reality. Murray was the Wimbledon champion. He had achieved sporting immortality.
Unfortunately the Brit was unable to push on afterwards, with the back injury flaring up again as he tumbled out of the US Open at the quarter-final stage to Stanislas Wawrinka. He returned for two more matches, as he fired Great Britain back into the World Group of the Davis Cup for the first time in five years, before finally opting for the surgery he had desperately avoided for over a year.
There was still time for one more award though, with the Brit getting elected into British sporting history with the Sports Personality of the Year award, winning by a landslide 350,000 votes.
img13.jpgTo 2014 and beyond
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It’s incredible to believe that all happened within 12 months. One of the most incredible years in British tennis history. Murray was no longer the nearly man, the greatest player to never win a slam. He no longer had the critics on his back, questioning when he would ever win a slam. Or Wimbledon.
Who knows what the future holds for Andrew Murray. But what we can be sure of more than anything - he will bounce back. Because if there’s one thing you can’t question, it’s his unbelievable tenacity when the chips are down - his incredible resolve that made him the champion he is today.
And when all is said and done, Murray will go down as one of Britain’s greatest ever sporting legends.