They are the history boys. One of them has the weight of it sitting firmly on his shoulders. The other is desperate to cement his name once and for all in its books. And when the pair meet on the hallowed turf of SW19 tonight, both Andy Murray and Roger Federer will be acutely aware of the fact that one of them can lay to bed the weight of history that has dogged their glittering careers for these past few years.
For Murray, it is the weight of British Tennis history and immense expectation. In reaching the Wimbledon final he has done something that no British man has managed to do since Henry ‘Bunny’ Austin in 1938. But simply reaching a final is not enough for the Great British public. They hunger for a win, almost as much as Murray himself. You have to go way back to 1936 (Fred Perry) to find a British name on the silver gilt cup that this year’s Wimbledon champion will hold aloft, and with every year that passes the pressure on British Tennis and its players to produce a winner increases.
Federer, too, has the weight of tennis history on his shoulders. His has been a remarkable career and one that will surely be celebrated for generations to come. But having won everything there is to win (including 16 Grand Slam titles), he wants records. He has one: an eighth Wimbledon final. But he wants to equal Pete Sampras’ seven Wimbledon titles, and more than that he wants to reclaim the World No. 1 spot.
If he does that he will undoubtedly clinch weeks 286 and 287 at the top of the world, and so surpass Sampras’ all-time record for weeks at world No. 1. It would be an incredible feat, and one that the Swiss maestro so richly deserves.
But as Federer was keen to point out following his impressive win over a somewhat subdued Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray leads their head-to-head mini-series 7-6. What he failed to mention is that Murray has never beaten him in a Grand Slam. In fact, not only has Murray not beaten Federer in a Grand Slam, but he has not taken a set off him either. Admittedly, they have only played twice and both times were finals (US Open 2008 and Australian Open 2010), but the pressure on Murray in this Grand Slam final is far greater than in any other, and he will have to manage that pressure if he is to find a way past a man who sees the Wimbledon Centre Court as something of a second home.
Yet home court advantage belongs to Murray. Despite the Wimbledon crowds’ affection for Federer, Murray will surely receive the support of the majority of punters fortunate enough to have a ticket for the final (one newspaper reported that they were trading for AUS$60,000 on the black market in London). It is a support that he seems to thrive on. They live and die with the Scot, following his tortuous progress through set after set and round after round. They share his highs, lament his lows, and revel in the glory of one of Britain’s finest tennis players. But that support – or Murray mania – places pressure on the Scots’ shoulders. It is his ability to manage that pressure that will be key to his eventual success or failure (as the British public will perceive it) in the Wimbledon Final.
When Bunny Austin reached the Wimbledon Final in 1938 he won just four games in a straight sets defeat to Don Budge. Andy Murray will hope to avoid a repeat of history, and in so doing make a little of his own. Federer will be looking to do the same thing. They are the history boys.