LONDON - As if an historic victory in the Tour de France and stacks of Olympic medals won by the host nation weren't enough to boost the country's spirits, Britain celebrated another major milestone Tuesday that capped a magical summer of sporting success.
Yes, at long last, after 76 years of wait and frustration, Britain has a men's Grand Slam tennis champion.
Andy Murray's five-set victory over Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open final provided the perfect bookend to the greatest British sports summer of a generation, continuing the flag-waving patriotism and feel-good glow that began with national celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II's "Diamond Jubilee" of 60 years on the throne and peaked during the last six weeks of Olympic and Paralympic fervour.
Murray's win — completed while most of Britain was asleep — came just hours after more than 1 million people lined the streets of London to cheer the nation's Olympians and Paralympians in a two-hour parade marking the end of the 2012 Games.
"The forecast ... was made yesterday that the great summer of British sport was over, but he's given us another immense prize to wake up to," Prime Minister David Cameron said.
After losing in four previous Grand Slam finals, Murray outlasted defending champion Djokovic 7-6 (10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 after nearly five hours to become the first British man to win a Slam since Fred Perry captured the Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships in 1936.
Finally, the "Fred Perry curse" has been broken — although until Murray wins Wimbledon, it won't be fully put to rest.
"Thank God that's over. Thank God we can let Fred Perry lie easy. Thank God for Andy Murray," wrote the Guardian newspaper website.
Like Tim Henman before him, Murray had been dogged by the weight of expectations of the British public and media and the never-ending questions over when the Grand Slam drought would finally be broken.
"Now they won't ask me that stupid question any more" read the back page headline Tuesday in London's Evening Standard.
What a past few months it has been for Britain in the sporting arena.
Chelsea won the Champions League. Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour de France. Rory McIroy won the PGA Championship by a record eight shots and established himself as golf's dominant player.
Above all, London hosted hugely successful Olympics and Paralympics that captivated the country. Britain recorded its best Olympic showing in 104 years with 29 gold medals (including Murray in the men's singles) and 65 medals in all. Britain celebrated the close of the Paralympics on Sunday after winning 120 medals, including 34 gold.
Now, Murray has become the first man to win the U.S. Open and Olympic gold in the same year.
"I'm absolutely delighted for him," Cameron said. "It's a huge achievement. For 76 years Britain has waited for a Grand Slam win in tennis and Andy has done it in huge style."
The victory came on the exact day — Sept. 10 — that Perry won the U.S. title in 1936. It also came in Murray's fifth Grand Slam final, following in the footsteps of his no-nonsense coach, Ivan Lendl, who lost in his first four Grand Slam finals before going on to win eight major titles.
For years, Murray has been considered just a rung below the "Big Three" of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, who had shared 29 of the previous 30 major titles. Now he's joined the club and Britain is rejoicing.
Nowhere was the impact felt more deeply than in his Scottish hometown of Dunblane, a cathedral town famous for a mass shooting in 1996. Murray was 8 when a gunman opened fire at his elementary school, killing 16 children and a teacher. He didn't witness the actual carnage, but hid under a desk in the headmaster's study.
A noisy crowd of about 80 people packed into the bar at the Dunblane Hotel to watch the U.S. Open final that ended shortly after 2 a.m. British time. After Djokovic hit a forehand service return long on match point, the crowd erupted in cheers and chants of "There's only one Andy Murray.'"
"Andy is Dunblane's hero, not just Dunblane, the whole of Scotland and the rest of Britain," 63-year-old Gavin Noland told reporters at the bar.
Referring to Dunblane's shooting tragedy, 62-year-old Dave Whitton said: "It's a town where things have happened, but this brings a moment of joy and happiness instead of other things that have happened."
Murray's uncle, Neill Erskine, said he received a text message from Murray thanking the family for their support.
"There are a huge mixture of emotions in the family — pride, relief, excitement," he said.
Murray's grandparents, Roy and Shirley Erskine, were among those who stayed up late to watch the match. His grandmother recalled his rambunctious ways as a child.
"He had a temper on him and would always stamp his foot and say, 'I've got to do better, I've got to do better.' But he focused that eventually and used his energy to play tennis," she said.
Murray did most of his tennis training as a youth in Barcelona but remains fiercely loyal to his Scottish roots. Two other famous Scots — actor Sean Connery and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson — were among those in the stands cheering him on at Flushing Meadows.
"Now Olympic and U.S. Open champion, Andy truly is a Scottish sporting legend and I'm certain that more Grand Slam titles will follow," Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said.
The end of the match came too late for many British newspapers, but Murray's triumph made some late editions.
"History Boy!" blared the tabloid Daily Mirror on the front page. On the sports pages, the Mirror launched a campaign for a Murray knighthood: "Arise Sir Andy: Grand Slam Glory at Last. Oh What a Knight."
British TV stations camped out early Tuesday at the modest Dunblane tennis courts where Murray got his start as a young boy, interviewing youngsters who said they were inspired by his triumph.
Murray and Lendl are the two men in the Open era, which began in 1968, to have lost their first four Grand Slam finals. Murray fell to Djokovic in the 2011 Australian Open, and against Federer at the 2008 U.S. Open, 2010 Australian Open and this year's Wimbledon.
It was Murray's decisive, straight-sets victory over Federer in the Olympic final in August on Centre Court at Wimbledon — less than a month after the Wimbledon defeat — that lifted his self-belief and provided the platform for his Grand Slam success.
"Ever since he won the Olympics he has walked around with a lot more confidence," said Murray's former coach, Leon Smith. "After winning yesterday, it's going to do even more so now."
Former British player and U.S. Open finalist Greg Rusedski said Murray can only go higher.
"Having won this, he can go on to win many majors and maybe end the year as ... No. 1," he said.
Murray is currently ranked No. 4 but is close behind No. 3 Nadal. Djokovic is No. 1 in this week's rankings, with Federer dropping to No. 2.
"We are all delighted for Andy," Wimbledon chairman Philip Brook said. "Winning your first Grand Slam has to be a very special moment in a player's career and it was a fantastic performance in an epic final to cap a truly memorable summer of tennis for him personally, and for British tennis."
Next challenge: Winning Wimbledon and ending the Fred Perry questions for good.
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