So many people have said it would happen. But until it did, you didn’t dare dream it. Exactly a month to the day that he lost to Roger Federer in four sets on Centre Court, the first British man to contest a Wimbledon singles final since Bunny Austin in 1938, Andy Murray will walk through the famous Court’s white doors to face the same foe. But this time, it’s an Olympics final, a first for both men, and the reward is a prize that neither of them has. A gold medal. And a silver medal too.
Murray has been his usual oasis of calm self this week and last at Wimbledon, intensely focused, and immensely determined as he has made his way through a by no means easy draw for the loss of just a set. But his reactions to his wins have almost been the most vehement we have seen, more so even than at Wimbledon. Let there be no doubt that Murray wants gold, and wants it with every fibre of his being.
"The atmosphere is unbelievable," said Murray. "Different to pretty much anything I've been in before. I obviously played in big matches, night matches at the US Open we always said was the best atmosphere, but it's not even close to what it was today."
His 7-5, 7-5 win over Novak Djokovic, a man who beat Murray in five agonising sets in the Australian Open semi-finals in Melbourne this January, was the embodiment of Murray’s resolve.
From the very first ball, playing on the increasingly bald Centre Court, Murray manouvered Djokovic around, making the Serb miss, and striking when he could. Given the advantage of serving first, Murray won 88 per cent of points when he got his first delivery in, and sneaking the set 7-5 with a passing shot for set point on the Djokovic serve, and a forehand crosscourt winner to grab it. With 11 winners to Djokovic’s 12, and five unforced errors each, it was about as tight as the gut in both players’ rackets.
Serving first again in the second set, Murray absolutely refused to let up, try as Djokovic might. The Serb is tailor-made to play for his country, and having suffered the agony of missing a sitting duck lob against Rafael Nadal in the Beijing Olympics semi-final four years ago, would want far more than a bronze medal to take home to the adoring Belgrade crowds.
At 4-4 and deuce on the Murray serve, it looked like Djokovic might get his opportunity. The Brit dumped a forehand in the net, and promptly screamed at himself. Break point Djokovic, who had been using the dusty back of Centre Court to slip and slide as if it were a clay court. But Murray produced an unreturnable first serve, and another to hold. From his reaction, it was if he’d won the match.
At 5-5, there was a repeat performance. Djokovic manufactured break point again, and this time Murray came out lucky with a drop shot, producing a squat shot worthy of Agnieszka Radwanska as he held serve again.
"He played better in the important moments," said Djokovic, the bronze medallist in Beijing four years ago. "He served extremely well, used that element in his game efficiently when he needed to.
"I had a lot of break balls in the second set. Practically every service game I had chance in the second set to make a break, especially the one on five-all. It's a disappointing loss, but he deserves to be in the finals."
One game from the Olympic final, Murray’s self-belief was so strong that the fight simply wilted out of Djokovic, Murray moving to three match points on the Serb’s serve, and needing just the one. Tears in his eyes as he approached the net, the Brit gave a Tsonga-esque running jump into the air after shaking Djokovic’s hand as Centre Court erupted around him.
"I want to try and win," said Murray. "I don't think going into matches trying to get revenge for something that's happened in the past really helps. I think you need to try and focus on the future.
"The one thing I hope on Sunday, he's not played for the gold medal in singles before, and most times when I played him he's experienced the situations way, way more times than me. He probably played eight Wimbledon finals or something like that. For me, it was my first one.
"It's so rare for him to be in a position where he's trying to do something new because he's achieved so much in tennis. I hope that will even things out a little bit.
"It's going to be a tough match. Obviously I'll need to play great tennis to win. I hope it's a great match because I think the way the matches went today, I think the tournament deserves a great final. I hope we can provide that."
A five-set final against Federer is no easy ask. The singles gold medal is the only thing that eludes the multi-Grand Slam record-breaking world No.1. But, and whisper it quietly, there is the slight, sneaking sense that maybe, just maybe, it will be Murray’s moment to deny him.