Wimbledon: Brave Murray turns into slayer of gods and ghost

Tennis player Andy Murray of Britain cradles the trophy under a statue of former British champion Fred Perry, at Wimbledon, southwest London July 8, 2013.

LONDON - From a final that never flirted with the epic has emerged a hero who is a classic. Only such a man, on a single afternoon, could break a curse, remove a hex, slay a legend and lay a ghost to rest.

In the end, even security guards were slapping Andy Murray on the back. Everyone was reaching out for this man who had touched them. And Fred Perry, the ghost in this tale, the last British man to win Wimbledon 77 years ago, must have grinned from upstairs.

In 1934, after his first win, his father wept, so did a friend, and Perry wrote: "I thought, what the heck's going on. I've just won Wimbledon and everybody is crying!" Ah, but this is a heck of a story, too, about a heck of a player.

In 1936, LIFE magazine is relaunched, Charlie Chaplin releases Modern Times and Hitler hosts the Olympics; in 1936, Perry wins his last Wimbledon and no British tennis player knows it yet but he will haunt them endlessly.

Ghosts are a weight, they plague every future hopeful, they become a symbol of a national frustration. Ask England's football team which are stalked by the ghost of 1966. Ask local fans who find 19 years already without a Malaysia Cup hard to endure.

And yet we love ghosts, for it is the anticipation and angst that prefaces their exorcism which gives sport an energy. For when it happens, when the Red Sox win a World Series after 86 years, it is miraculous.

But this Perry is a different ghost.

He is a British tennis ghost, from a British land that codified the game, at a British event that is the oldest Slam. A ghost with a statue at Wimbledon and with a clothing company logo.

The pressure is like a vice, and even coach Ivan Lendl said in a BBC documentary that in 2012 there were days his head was "just spinning".

The older this ghost gets, the more cruel it can become. The decent Tim Henman tried and failed and was dismissed by a comedian as a "human form of beige".

But for Murray it is harder for he's not just born in a time of a carnivorous media, but in the midst of a generation of masterful men.

Men like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic. Men better than him. Men who know nothing of ghosts. Men who have no "home" Grand Slam. Murray, in effect, must fell these gods and a ghost all at once.

But Murray is the right man for no man has suffered more. Even the Brits weren't sure of him, not of his hair, his tirades towards his box, his self-flagellation, his strange passivity during points.

In his first Wimbledon final in 2012, only half the crowd seemed on his side. This was a reluctant romance: a player unable to win matches or even a crowd.

But Murray, who said being the British hope has been "very, very tough, very stressful", is the patron saint of the hopeless. Nothing came easy to him, not ruthlessness, not charm.

Everything had to be learnt, everything took time, even his first Grand Slam title, at the US Open last year, took four hours, 54 minutes.

As he said on Sunday: "I think I persevered. That's really been it, the story of my career."

But what won people over was not sweat but his tears as he wept before them in defeat at Wimbledon last year, starting his speech by saying: "I'm going to try this and it's not going to be easy."

Beneath this growling competitor, if we looked, was another person. In the BBC documentary, when he is asked about Dunblane Primary School, and the day in 1996 when he was there and a gunman killed 17 people, he cannot talk.

He just weeps and he holds his dog tight. Murray, we forget, knows more about ghosts, of childhood friends gone, and of painful defeats, than most other men.

On Sunday, he was ready - consistently elevating his game on command - and Djokovic was not. After an attritional semi-final, the Serb moved like Iron Man in need of an oil change.

Since the 2010 US Open, he has played seven five-set matches in the semis or finals of Grand Slams at an average of four hours 38 minutes a match. Perhaps the world No.1 who loses gracefully has to learn how to win a little more easily.

But this was Murray's day and he knelt on the turf and wept. It was a brief, private moment for a man who fought alone and who fought not for Britain, or 77 years, but just for himself.

You can't play with history on your back, you can't play for nations for it is too suffocating. As he said: "I won this for myself but I understand how much everyone else wanted to see a British winner."

Buried forever was any notion of Murray the plucky loser. Now he held the trophy and strode a court where no ghost lingered any more but only this champion of spirit.

Goodbye Fred, hello Andy.