Ivan Lendl tried his very best. And he almost did it. Strained his muscles, gutted it out and produced one of the moments of the year.
His teeth were visible. And then- there it was- a smirk.
He wasn’t going the full monty, though. Not yet, atleast. A smile could wait. For now.
Maybe when he’d be back in the dark, solitary, bricked colonial confines of the Knight-style Dungeon he is presumed to be living in with nothing but loin cloth and a toothbrush, he’d permit himself.
Because the algorithm that runs the complex program within his body system has been passed on, successfully, finally, at long last, to his star pupil.
Andy Murray, the first Brit to win a Slam in 6739 years, doesn’t smile either. In fact, he winces, moans, whines, gapes, cribs and cries, as he has done throughout 2012, until he gets his way. And then, he tries to smile. Especially when he sees the high-wired, older, sturdier, worldly-weary version of his own new and improved T2 bot system, named I. Lendl, sitting in his box- scanning the court for more obstacles through his outdated infrared laserbeam X-mapping target pickers.
When he came back from the brink of utter hopelessness on Monday night, on the verge of seeing his dreams vanish after a sublimely hard-fought first two sets against the greatest hard court player on Earth, he believed it.
He looked at Lendl after winning that fifth set 6-2, and wondered if this was what it felt like. 5 attempts, just like the T1 bot in the 80s, 4 failed attempts, and the 5th at New York, producing his first and ultimate moment of glory. The machine may have evolved, but the results remained the same.
Less than 3 months ago, facing complete ignominy after falling at the last hurdle on Grass, this T2 bot had showed a bit of emotion. He leaked oil, his metal parts refused to creak, but if you looked closely- the machine looked disappointed.
Steaming with energy, heated up beyond permissible limit, it was on the verge of shutdown. Gold fittings followed, and another tilt at the title that should have been his 4 years ago. Back then, in 2008, in swashbuckling form, he had reached his first Major Final at this venue- eventually falling to the greatest player of all time (a humanoid of sorts, that dances, sways and does a great ‘nutcracker’)
So many up-and-coming, promising new talents fall to the fear of destiny, the living wrath of marrying actual accomplishments to potential- Gasquet, Berdych, Cilic, the entire American fraternity.
What Andy Murray has done, over a period of four painstaking coming-of-age years that will no doubt reap immense dividends now, is not fall to those expectations.
He didn’t give in. Not after losing badly in the Australian Open Final 2010, or after narrowly losing in Wimbledon 2011. He picked up the pieces of his computer system, joined forces with the retired bot, fitted new screws and bolts, and went on. He displayed a remarkable human tendency by doing this- that of being able to soldier on, despite setbacks, without fear of never having an opportunity again.
His nation, the nation that created him out of scraps a quarter century ago, went more and more into the background with each run to a title-shot. He ceased to be British after so many failed attempts, and he ceased to be a man with history against him.
In the end, he just became another player who became a Champion. He became the face of human spirit, of determination and failure. He lost nationality, and gained perspective.
Through it all, he worked hard to avoid the title of ‘the greatest player to have never won a Slam’. And now that he has avoided it, with drama befitting nothing less than Churchill’s potential rebirth, he must work even harder to maintain a new legend: That of the greatest British player in Tennis history.
He can’t stop at anything anymore. He can’t win his first Slam again. He can’t feel what a first kiss felt like again. There is no excuse, anymore.
And now, more than ever, he must try to experience what it is to be someone like Roger Federer. Or Rafael Nadal. Or even Novak Djokovic. To feel what it must be like to be a winner, at all costs.
The cherry, by all accounts, had been popped with his ascent through 2008- and it was always going to be about when and not IF. Every conversation about him will now begin and end with ‘Why not?’, and not ‘How’ or ‘Why’. He must come to terms with it, with the inhuman pressure that surrounds Champions on the verge of being mega-bots.
For that, all he has to do is look around him. At the 3 men that envelope him in the rankings table.
This could well be the era that sees four of the greatest men’s players of all time, playing together, in Slam after Slam. This won’t last for more than two years. Savour it, every single moment, feel it tingle down your throat, and cool your insides.
2012 will go down as the year that marked the second coming of Men’s Tennis. The shackles of dominance, in whatever form, have been broken- with the top 4 players winning the Majors this year.
And none of them show any signs of slowing, or falling.