Taylor: Never upon a time

July 12, 2012, 1:33 a.m.

The cruel truth about sports is that, unlike Hollywood blockbusters, there are rarely any fairy-tale endings. Hard work is often just that, with no deserved payoff, and the underdog is normally crushed by bigger and better opponents.

Now, before I get accused by fans of Roger Federer of bias and bitterness—because yes, I am talking about last Sunday’s Wimbledon final here—I want to make this clear: Federer outplayed Andy Murray and deservingly won his record-equaling seventh Wimbledon title. There were no poor decisions or refereeing favoritism that led to the result. Federer won fair and square, no complaints.

But Federer’s victory was no fairy-tale ending. A player who spent a hefty chunk of his life as world No. 1 regained his crown and etched his name once again in the history books. Yet a player who was the odds-on favorite to win this match not in the four sets it finally took, but in just three, can’t be our Hollywood hero.

Everyone has to start from the beginning, so when Federer first rose up the ATP rankings it must have felt like a dream to him. But those days are long gone. A record 17 Grand Slam titles and 286 weeks spent as world No. 1 later, many—though not the modest Federer himself—regard him as the greatest player of all time. Federer is undoubtedly a legend, but he is also clearly Goliath.

Murray, meanwhile, is the perennial underdog, David. He has finished the last four years ranked No. 4 and been denied time and again in Grand Slam tournaments by the trio above him: Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately for Murray, both of the other two Roger rivals have already done enough to be counted among the best of all time. Nadal has 11 Grand Slam titles and has spent 102 weeks at No. 1, and Djokovic has five and has held the top spot for 53 weeks.

That being said, Federer is five years older than Murray, so the Scot can hope for a window of opportunity when the great Swiss player decides to hang up his racket. As for the other two, Nadal is just a year older, and Djokovic is actually a week younger.

Should Murray ever walk away with the top prize from any of the world’s four Grand Slams, no one will be able to say didn’t earn it. To do so, he will almost certainly have to find a way past one or more of the Big Three along the way. Not just in a regular match, but probably also in the final. The last 30 straight Grand Slam finals have featured at least one of the trio, and Murray’s four losses at that stage have come against Djokovic and Federer.

A player who grew up in a tiny Scottish town under the cloud of an unspeakable tragedy (one of the United Kingdom’s worst-ever gun crimes, in which 16 children and one adult were murdered, took place at his primary school while he attended class), Murray has been anything but a failure. He has won 22 singles titles, beating the entire top three in the process, been ranked as highly as No. 2 and become the first Brit to reach the final of Wimbledon since 1938.

Through him, Dunblane has become known not for a tortured past, but as the hometown of probably the greatest British tennis player of all time.

But Sunday’s final made it clear how fiercely his ambition burns, and that his success to date is not enough. Willed on by 60 million Brits, and especially by 8,000 old neighbors who see in his achievements a way to heal the wounds that still cut so deeply, he was brought to tears by the sheer emotion of it all. He has sometimes had a mixed relationship with British fans, but he surely won over those last hearts and minds with his passion and performance in the final.

If Andy Murray wins a Grand Slam title, and especially if that title is Wimbledon, the spiritual home of tennis, maybe, just maybe we’ll finally have our fairy-tale ending.

Tom Taylor loves fairy-tale endings in sports almost as much as he loves fairy-tale endings in cheesy Hollywood blockbusters. Send him a list of cheesy movies with heartwarming endings at [email protected].

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