Different Brit, same outcome. There is no end to it. The 73-year wait for a British men’s Wimbledon singles winner will stretch to 74 at least after Andy Murray lost in four sets to an inspired Andy Roddick on Centre Court.
A scrap of consolation is that Murray is still only 22 and remains a likely future champion on these lawns.
In retirement, Bunny Austin, the last British male finalist, complained that all anyone wanted to talk to him about was “Fred, Fred, Fred,” meaning Fred Perry, who won three consecutive singles titles from 1934 to 1936.
Austin was lucky to endure it only for a few summers, because there are elderly people in this country who have been hearing that name for more than seven decades.
The British No. 1 toiled valiantly to make the world talk about “Andy, Andy, Andy,” but in the end his game lacked the full quota of aggression, and Roddick prevailed 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6.
“There was an awful lot of pressure on him today,” Roddick said.
For the game in Britain, this semi-final was just about the most meaningful match ever played in the London postal district SW19, given that Murray started an odds-on favorite to go through to face Roger Federer in today’s final.
No surprise, then, that anticipation fatigue turned Centre Court into a house of angst. For the opening set Murray might have been playing in a church hall. Too tense to be excited, too scared to imagine him at Centre Court today, the crowd fretted and fussed.
For the hardcore fans — the ones who resisted the temptation to issue such inane shouts as “Come on, Tim” in reference to the last great British hope, Tim Henman — this was a day not to enjoy but to endure. It felt, if you can forgive the tinge of melodrama, like a trial of national character.
Four thousand watched on screens from Court Two and 3,000 huddled in front of another giant screen.
There is something about the ace as a weapon of subjugation that scares tennis crowds, and Roddick brought some of his biggest bombs to the opening exchanges, firing a serve down at 140mph in the opening game.
Setting up his ambush perfectly, the tall American took the first set in 38 minutes after breaking Murray’s serve in the final game.
Championship tennis is often a matter of how elite players respond to adversity and Murray’s reaction was impeccable.
He bounced out for the second set radiating intent and broke back with fizzing cross-court winners. The second set was his, 6-4, but Roddick is a former US Open winner, and still only 26, so there could be no hope of him helping the All England Club out with their bad historical itch.
Roddick is a former luminary who went on the slide to be overtaken by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, but at these Championships there were signs that his mojo was returning.
The threat always was that Murray would run into an adversary who had the arsenal, on a good day, to conquer him.
In all the inquests into British failures down the years, almost no mention is ever made of Centre Court’s capacity to inspire foreign players to win on ground that they are constantly told is hallowed.
In the third set, Murray was warned for an audible obscenity, but insisted he had simply said: “Come on, pass,” as in, “come on, play the passing shot.”
But the umpire thought he heard some exclamation of distress. One was certainly due, because Roddick was playing the superior tennis, and Perry’s little crypt in tennis history was starting to look impregnable once again.