WIMBLEDON: Beaten Murray shows he can stay with best

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From the club in Dunblane where Andy Murray first picked up a tennis racket at the age of eight, in homes across the country and on Centre Court itself, the tears flowed as Great Britain’s 76-year search for Fred Perry’s successor went on.

It will come as no solace to Murray right now that his defeat in the Wimbledon final to a man rapidly establishing himself as the undisputed greatest tennis player of all time was one that came down to such small margins.

The inch-long backhand on break point at 4-4 in the second set which would have left him serving for a two-set lead. The forehand down the line that would have given him an early break in the fourth, but landed just wide.

Make no mistake, Murray had his chances. Federer, having lost the first set, briefly looked there for the taking. But 17-time grand slam champions - this was number 17 - tend to find a way to claw back the most hopeless of causes.

It was supposedly written in the stars for Murray. In a special summer of British sport, he was destined to join Virginia Wade as a British Wimbledon singles winner in a Jubilee year.

The Olympics are looming, a Briton is leading the Tour de France, and Sheffield’s Jonny Marray had served up the most improbable of appetisers by going from hopeless wild card to Wimbledon doubles champion the night before.

Ultimately, though, it might be said that fate conspired against Murray. The closure of the Centre Court roof in the third game of the third set undoubtedly favoured indoor specialist Federer, whose shots glued to the lines with renewed purpose upon the re-start.

We learned much about two men. Firstly, that Federer, with his first grand slam title in two-and-a-half years at the age of 30, can give Rod Laver a run for his money at the summit of the lists of all-time greats. Laver already puts Federer top.

But perhaps we learned more about Murray. We learned that he belongs on the biggest of occasions, and that talk of the world’s top three - Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - disappearing over the horizon is not so much premature as plain wrong.

Talk of Murray missing his best chance is palpable nonsense. This is not 2002, when Tim Henman’s desperate quest was lent extra urgency by the knowledge that the likes of Federer and Lleyton Hewitt were shaping up to start their own eras of dominance.

The rising star these days is Murray himself. Next year, Federer will be one year older and Murray will be the stand-out challenger on his home court. When he emerges from his darkest sporting hour, Murray will know that more than most.

In defeat, Murray has come of age in so many ways. Thirty-nine different men have held aloft the famous Wimbledon men’s singles trophy since Perry won his third title in 1936. If Murray can become the 40th, his tears will be of joy, and they will be shared by almost all.