Alastair Grant/Associated Press file photo
Alastair Grant/Associated Press file photo
WIMBLEDON, England – The Brits know how to stage a coronation, and they’ll do so today for either regal Roger Federer or one of their own, Andy Murray.
Queen Elizabeth II has another commitment, but the former Kate Middleton and the British prime minister will be on hand to see who reigns at Wimbledon.
Plenty of history will be written in the men’s final at tennis’ most tradition-rich tournament. Federer can add to his record 16 Grand Slam championships, and he would tie a record by winning Wimbledon for a seventh time. He also would claim the ATP’s top ranking for the first time since June 2010 and match Pete Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at No. 1.
“There’s a lot on the line for me,” Federer said.
Murray, meanwhile, merely is trying to become the first British man to win a Grand Slam title since Fred Perry took Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1936.
“It has been a great tournament so far,” Murray said. “I’ve just got to try to keep it together for the final.”
Britain’s abuzz. Even without the queen, the Royal Box is certain to be packed, along with the rest of Centre Court. Tickets are going for more than 2,600 pounds ($4,000). Thousands have bought 8-pound ($12.40) grounds passes to picnic near Wimbledon’s practice courts on the grassy hill known these days as Murray Mount, watching the match on a huge video screen.
Loyalties will be divided. Brits love Federer, the celebrated Swiss whose graceful game is so well suited to the All England Club. He’ll receive sentimental support because he has endured a reign delay, going 2˝ years without a major title while being eclipsed by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. Now, at 30, he could become the first 30-something man to win Wimbledon since Arthur Ashe in 1975.
Allegiance for the stolid Murray is more a matter of geography, and even then it’s complicated. He’s a native of Scotland, where there’s a campaign afoot to break away from Britain. Whenever Murray loses, the English tend to call him Scottish, not British.
But for the moment, when it comes to lawn tennis, the United Kingdom is united.
Brits invented the game and, in 1877, started Wimbledon. They’ve won the men’s title 35 times, more than any other country but not since before World War II. And no British woman has won Wimbledon since Virginia Wade in 1977.
Londoners have accepted the championship drought with good humor, especially where Murray is concerned. Waitresses at restaurants in Wimbledon village roll their eyes at the mention of his name. Last Sunday at the village’s Emmanuel Church, when the pastor noted from the pulpit that Brits are rooting for Murray, the congregation responded with groans and giggles.
It doesn’t help that he has been beaten in the semifinals each of the last three years, nor that he has lost every set in his three Grand Slam finals, including against Federer at the 2008 U.S. Open and 2010 Australian Open.
A breakthrough victory came Friday versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, making the 25-year-old Murray the first British man to reach the final since Bunny Austin in 1938.
“People have been talking for 10 years that finally he was going to be the one to do it,” three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe said. “There were starting to be questions. He shut that talk down. It’s rather amazing because some people were starting to wonder, including myself, whether this day would actually come.”
A part-time resident of Miami, Murray said he draws inspiration from Miami Heat star LeBron James, who was much maligned before winning his first NBA title last month.
Murray also has benefited from the help of Ivan Lendl, his coach since the start of the year. Lendl lost the first four Grand Slam finals he played, then won eight major titles.
The Scotsman speaks in a mumbling monotone, and on court he tends to go about his business like a condemned man. At the French Open in May, Wade described him as “a drama queen.”
But while Murray’s no Federer when it comes to style, some find appeal in his broad repertoire of shots.
“I love watching Andy play because I think it’s so exciting,” said Serena Williams, who won her fifth women’s title Saturday. “You never know what he’s going to do. He’s running every ball down. He looks tired, and then he comes back. I think it’s awesome. He’s really one of my favorite people to watch. If that’s being a drama queen, it’s really exciting.”
Murray’s accustomed to carrying the weight of a skeptical country’s hopes. Shouts from the stands of “Come on, Andy” have been common for years at Wimbledon and occasionally are heard at matches where Murray’s not even a contestant.
“There is obviously a lot of pressure and stress around this time of year,” he said.
There also will be pressure on Federer, who’s mindful of his place in history. He beat defending champion Djokovic on Friday to reach the final for the first time since 2009, and now he has a chance to tie the tournament record of seven titles set in the 1880s by William Renshaw – an Englishman – and tied in 2000 by Sampras.
“It’s a big match for me, and I hope I can keep my nerves,” Federer said. “I’m sure I can.”
Like London bookmakers and most other observers, Sampras considers Federer the favorite.
“But if Andy serves well and gets aggressive and can get the crowd behind him and use a little bit of destiny, he can pull it off,” said Sampras, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “Too bad it’s on at 5 in the morning. I’m going to have to TiVo it.”
AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.
Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press file photo