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New York - His considerable lead, and a chance at history, slipping away, Andy Murray dug deep for stamina and mental strength, outlasting Novak Djokovic in a thrilling five-set U.S. Open final Monday.
It had been 76 years since a British man won a Grand Slam singles championship and, at least as far as Murray was concerned, it was well worth the wait.
Ending a nation's long drought, and snapping his own four-final skid in majors, Murray finally pulled through with everything at stake on a Grand Slam stage, shrugging off defending champion Djokovic's comeback bid to win 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2.
"Novak is so, so strong. He fights until the end in every single match," Murray said. "I don't know how I managed to come through in the end."
Yes, Murray already showed he could come up big by winning the gold medal in front of a home crowd at the London Olympics last month. But this was different. This was a Grand Slam tournament, the standard universally used to measure tennis greatness - and the 287th since Britain's Fred Perry won the 1936 U.S. Championships, as the event was known back then.
Murray vs. Djokovic was a test of will as much as skill, lasting 4 hours, 54 minutes, tying the record for longest U.S. Open final. The first-set tiebreaker's 22 points set a tournament mark. They repeatedly produced fantastic, tales-in-themselves points, lasting 10, 20, 30, even 55 - yes, 55! - strokes, counting the serve. The crowd gave a standing ovation to salute one majestic, 30-stroke point in the fourth set that ended with Murray's forehand winner as Djokovic fell to the court, slamming on his left side.
By the end, Djokovic - who had won eight consecutive five-set matches, including in the semifinals (against Murray) and final (against Rafael Nadal) at the Australian Open in January - was the one looking fragile, trying to catch breathers and doing deep knee bends at the baseline to stretch his aching groin muscles. After getting broken to trail 5-2 in the fifth, Djokovic had his legs massaged by a trainer.
"I really tried my best," he said.
No one had blown a two-set lead in the U.S. Open title match since 1949, and Murray was determined not to claim that distinction.
When Djokovic sent a forehand long on the final point, Murray crouched and covered his mouth with both hands, as though even he could not believe this moment had actually arrived. The 25-year-old Scot removed his sneakers, grimacing with each step as he gingerly stepped across the court. Djokovic came around to offer congratulations and a warm embrace.
Murray was one of only two men in the professional era, which began in 1968, to have lost his first four Grand Slam finals - against Djokovic in the 2011 Australian Open, and against Roger Federer at the 2008 U.S. Open, 2010 Australian Open and 2012 Wimbledon.
The other guy who began 0-4? Ivan Lendl, who just so happens to be Murray's coach nowadays. Murray's forehand is one of the improvements he's made under the tutelage of Lendl, who sat still for much of the match, eyeglasses perched atop his white baseball hat and crossed arms resting on his red sweater - in sum, betraying about as much emotion as he ever did during his playing days.
During the post-match ceremony, Murray joked about Lendl's reaction: "I think that was almost a smile."
The lack of a Grand Slam title for Murray, and for his country, has been the subject of much conversation and consternation in the United Kingdom, where the first of what would become tennis' top titles was at awarded at Wimbledon in 1877.
Djokovic, in contrast, was bidding for his sixth major trophy, fifth in the past two seasons. He had won 27 Grand Slam hard-court matches in a row.
Murray and Djokovic were born a week apart in May 1987, and they've known, and competed against, each other since they were about 11. Before Saturday's semifinals in New York, they shared a computer and sat together to watch online as Scotland and Serbia played to a 0-0 draw in a qualifying match for soccer's World Cup.
It was windy at the start Monday, gusting above 25 mph, and Murray dealt with it much better. Djokovic admitted after his semifinal that he was bothered by heavy wind while falling behind 5-2 in the first set Saturday; that's when play was suspended until the next day, the reason the tournament finished on a Monday instead of Sunday for the fifth consecutive year. Murray faced similar conditions in the semifinals, too - when a changeover chair skidded onto the court as he served one point - and joked after that victory that growing up in wind-whipped Scotland helped.
There were 10 points of at least 10 strokes each in the first-set tiebreaker, which lasted 25 minutes. Djokovic saved each of Murray's initial five set points, the last with a 123 mph ace to make it 10-all. But Djokovic's backhand flew long at the end of a 21-shot exchange to cede set point No. 6, and this time Murray converted, hitting a 117 mph serve that Djokovic couldn't put in the court.
Murray won the second set 7-5, but Djokovic knows how to fashion a comeback. He's won three times after facing a two-set hole, most recently in the French Open's fourth round.
Murray nosed ahead quickly, breaking for a 1-0 lead when his shot ticked off the net tape. It was a 2-0 lead for Murray soon thereafter, as he pounded a 131 mph service winner and then used some terrific defense to stretch a point until Djokovic missed again.
Murray broke again to go ahead 3-0 and was on his way.