By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Cometh the hour, cometh the man — Andy Murray proved himself the bastion of British tennis once again as he outclassed Canadian powerhouse Milos Raonic to claim a second Wimbledon title in masterful fashion on Sunday.
Three years after a nation held its breath, more in hope than expectation, as Murray took on and defeated ironman Novak Djokovic to end 77 years of pain, the 29-year-old delivered another command performance, winning 6-4 7-6(3) 7-6(2).
It was more comfortable than the scoreline suggested as a razor-sharp Murray dictated play from start to finish.
He committed a miserly 12 unforced errors, blunted the 140mph first serves whizzing his way and even reduced the normally Zen-like Raonic to venting his frustration.
The near hysteria of 2013 turned to expectation this time as defending champion Djokovic, Murray’s bogeyman who beat him in this year’s Australian and French Open finals, lost early.
It left the door open for Murray and when sixth seed Raonic knocked out seven-times champion Roger Federer to scupper hopes of a dream finale, many appeared to take for granted that the Scot would be hugging the Challenge Cup again before he walked on Centre Court to contest his 11th grand slam final.
Understandably so, seeing as he had started the previous 10, all against Djokovic and Federer, as underdog.
That created its own pressure but Murray hid it well in a near-faultless two hours 48 minutes in the Centre Court sunshine as he added a second Wimbledon crown to his 2012 U.S. Open title and gold medal from the London Olympics.
He is expected to head to Serbia next week for a Davis Cup quarter-final, having almost single-handedly won the trophy for Britain last year. Then it’s on to Rio to defend his Olympic crown.
No wonder the player once regarded as a surly teenager with bad hair is now a British sporting icon.
When Raonic shoved a backhand into the net to end the contest, a delirious Murray roared to the sky before bursting into tears as his latest achievement sunk in.
“I feel happier this time. I feel like this was sort of more for myself,” Murray, who became a father in February with wife Kim, who watched from the front row of his box, told reporters.
“The last time it was just pure relief and I didn’t really enjoy the moment as much.
“I’m going to make sure I enjoy this one more.”
For Raonic, who had been hoping to become Canada’s first grand slam singles champion, there were no regrets.
He knew he had been beaten by the better player, although there was much in his grand slam final debut to admire.
“This one is going to sting so I’m going to make sure that as long as these courts are green I’ll do everything I can to be back here for another chance,” the 25-year-old said on court.
“Andy has been playing great and he deserves to be winning here for the second time.
“I was keeping up with him. But when it counted, I wasn’t able to get on top.”
The final was billed as a showdown between one of the world’s biggest servers and arguably the best returner.
Raonic did blast one down at 147mph, the fastest delivery of the tournament, but the free points he usually enjoys were missing as Murray sent the ball hurtling back time and again.
Murray only broke serve once but always seemed in control as the Canadian struggled to apply any sustained pressure.
The first chink in Raonic’s armor came in the seventh game when Murray went 15-40 ahead. The Scot just missed with one attempted pass but converted his second break point when a powerful forehand forced a Raonic volley error.
Murray had break points in the first, seventh and ninth games of the second set as he tightened his grip, but Raonic was cool under pressure and took it to a tiebreak.
Upping the ante, Murray found another gear to move two sets clear and within sight of victory.
The match was more than two hours old when Raonic finally had two break points at 2-2 in the third set, but Murray saved both to hold — gesticulating wildly toward his coach Ivan Lendl who sat impassively throughout the match.
Raonic held to stay alive at 4-5 and 5-6 but rock solid Murray was relentless, winning the first five points of the day’s second tiebreak and wrapping it up without any drama.
(This version of the story has been refiled to correct speed of serve to 147mph in para 21)
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)