Murray updates Queen's history

Published : Jun 20, 2009 00:00 IST



The Scot became the first Briton to win at Queen's since Bunny Austin in 1938, the same year that Austin became the last British man to reach the Wimbledon final, Fred Perry having won the championship from 1934 to 1936, writes Steve Bierley.

British men's tennis has spent so long peering into the dusty corners of the past that the cobwebs have resolutely clung to hair and tissue well into the 21st century. Tim Henman did his best to eradicate the "not since Fred Perry" or "not since Bunny Austin" references but to little avail. Now Andy Murray, with good fortune and a fair wind, appears poised to change entirely the sepiatinged contours of the domestic landscape.

He became the first home player to win the tournament at Queen's since Austin in 1938, the same year that Austin became the last British man to reach the Wimbledon final, Perry having won the championship from 1934 to 1936.

Murray's wil was little more than a stroll up a small hill compared with the heights he will face when he arrives at the All England Club. He knows that all too well and there was a tightness to his performance in beating James Blake 7-5, 6-4 that spoke volumes for the emotions swirling in his head.

History weighed heavily, as it had in Paris when Roger Federer won the French Open for the first time and sealed his position as the greatest player of the modern era. The tension at Queen's was obviously as nothing compared with that of Roland Garros, though both Federer and Murray, in their different ways, were competing against themselves rather than their opponent.

Should Murray and Federer emerge on opposite sides of the Wimbledon draw, it would present a chance for both to meet in the final, as they did at Flushing Meadow last autumn. It would be difficult to predict, though, who would be more nervous, for the Swiss would be attempting to break Pete Sampras's record of 14 Grand Slam titles and Murray would be striving to end 73 years of British hope and heartache, a period that includes, most recently, Henman's four attempts to get beyond the semifinals.

Murray is hewn from different rock - granite to Henman's limestone. The latter reached three finals at Queen's, losing once to Sampras and twice to Australia's Lleyton Hewitt. Henman might have looked with some envy at the relative thinness of the challenge to Murray, although, from Murray's viewpoint, he crushed his first four opponents with a ruthlessness that bodes well for Wimbledon given that the matches there are the best of five sets and conservation of energy in the first four rounds is vital. In particular Murray's service was of the highest quality; afterwards he referred to it as a man's serve compared with a year ago. He dropped it only twice all week - once in the final - and served 38 aces.

Andy Roddick, four times the Queen's champion who injured his ankle in the semifinal against Blake, might have extended Murray more than his erratic fellow American. "The top players like Andy have got the confidence to go after their shots," said Blake, whose big weapon, the forehand, increasingly failed him the more Murray teased. "Andy put himself in the position to win a Slam (major) at the U.S. Open against Federer and, if he gets that chance again, I'm sure he'll be even better prepared. On a given day anything can happen."

Murray was understandably cautious in this final, having played Blake, a finalist here three years ago, only once before. They exchanged breaks early in the opening set and, although the top-seed displayed more moments of uncertainty than in his previous matches, Blake was never able to apply lasting pressure, despite hitting the occasional crushing winner. "Andy's hands are so good that he can really do almost everything with the ball," Blake said. "He's got the ability to beat anyone in the world and he's definitely a possibility to win Wimbledon."

Murray's development in the past year has been plain for all to see except, perhaps, the British public, who judge tennis by what happens at Queen's and at Wimbledon. He is the third best in the world, has won three of the major titles outside the majors and has beaten the world No. 1, Nadal, for the first time.

He believes it will be 18 months before he peaks but Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are within his grasp this year and he knows it. "I don't think it's impossible but I'll have to play my best tennis ever to do it," he said. "That's why no one in Britain's done it for such a long time because it is that difficult."

That is 73 years of difficulty, though now there is genuine hope that Murray will end the drought.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009

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