THE nation will hold its breath as Andy Murray takes to Centre Court this afternoon to contest his second successive Wimbledon final. We sent reporter Robert Wight to soak up the atmosphere with fans on Murray Mount as the Dunblane ace clinched his place in today’s showdown.
I saw grown men weep. Tears of pure joy ran down Saltire-painted cheeks to make a smudgy, blue mess. Women screamed and yelled until their voices gave out. Even then they kept cheering in throaty whispers.
Henman Hill, Murray Mount, call it what you will. It was crammed full on Friday, a riot of colour and noise.
Not a blade of grass could be seen as people packed together, eager to witness the drama playing out before them on the big screen.
Murray battled through to the final the hard way yet again and the hordes lapped it up. They danced, embraced and cheered.
A good deal of them had soaked up too much sun, downed far too many Pimm’s. Still they stood, dazed and near delirious like the rag-tag remnants of a victorious army.
And that was just the semi. Goodness knows what they’ll be like if Murray goes all the way today.
Now. Confession time. I don’t really care too much for tennis. And during Wimbledon fortnight it seems like I’m the only person in Britain who feels that way.
It’s on the telly at work, on the radio in the car, supermarket staff chat about it when I’m trying to buy my shopping. There’s no escape.
But I don’t get it. I find it boring. Even the scoring system annoys me. Why’s it “love” instead of just “nothing”? Why do the points go up in 15s? Advantages and break points? And why does the umpire keep asking for “juice” but never gets any?
I realise to many such views may be heresy. So forgive me, but now I’m about to commit treason I don’t really care for Andy Murray either.
I’m a Scot and I always thought our reputation for dourness a cruel, unfair myth. Until I saw Andy being interviewed. Sure, he shows plenty of emotion he’s passionate on court and last year he burst out greetin’, but why can’t he crack a smile?
He’s one of the best at what he does. At 26, he’s a multi-millionaire. He’s got a stunning girlfriend. You’d think he’d at least look a bit chuffed.
So I wasn’t exactly overjoyed when I heard I was being dispatched to SW19 to soak up the atmosphere.
I arrived late on Friday morning and the place was already heaving with the faithful. I headed to the grassy slopes behind Centre Court and squeezed on to a wee bit of turf.
This patch has many names Henman Hill, Murray Mount, Rusedski Ridge, Robson’s Green and Perry’s Peak. OK, I made that last one up.
I’d been ordered to enjoy the full Wimbledon experience so I figured I’d start with Pimm’s. A small plastic tumbler-full cost more than £7. Thank goodness for expenses. I bought two.
It’s not my usual tipple but it was quite agreeable and it became more so as the day went on. I tried some strawberries and cream too. Delish.
As I nestled back on my tartan rug to watch Djokovic dispatch del Potro, I couldn’t help think this tennis lark is really quite civilised.
Next to me, Suzanne Priestly and Duncan Armstrong, from Lincoln, resplendent in Union Jack T-shirts, told me they’d fallen victim to Murray Mania.
“He’s such a star,” said Suzanne. “The whole country has really got behind him over the last couple of years and I really think he’s going to do it.”
Duncan agreed. “His determination has won people over. Sure, first he’s a Scot but he’s also a Brit. He carries all our hopes.”
The roar that went up when Djokovic finally overcame del Potro was deafening but it was nothing compared to the cheers that greeted Murray.
I chatted to Scot Connor Hill, 23, and his Northern Irish pal Jonathon Moran, 24, the most excited tennis fans I’ve ever met.
Connor, from St Andrews, said: “Sporting heroes are hard to come by for Scots. Sir Chris Hoy’s retired and our football and rugby teams aren’t up to much.
“Andy’s pretty much all we’ve got. He’s already a hero if he wins Wimbledon he’ll be a legend.”
A hush fell over Centre Court as Murray and giant Pole Jerzy Janowicz squared up.
Perhaps it was just the Pimm’s, but I really got in to it. Dare I say I even started to enjoy it.
The anticipation rippled through the masses like an electric current. If the collective will of a crowd could ever carry someone to victory, it was surely on Friday night.
But things, especially where Andy Murray is concerned, are never simple. Before long he was a set down.
The crowd, though, didn’t get downhearted. There was the odd groan of frustration. But they willed him to dig deep.
The yells of delight when he pulled a set back to level at 1-1 were the loudest yet and the sense of mass relief left people almost giddy.
Another Murray rollercoaster.
Another hard-fought set went his way and the crowd’s relief turned to joy.
But swiftly it became outrage. Janowicz moaned for an hour that he wanted the roof closed and the umpire waited until Murray had just taken the lead to grant the request.
It’s funny how a crowd thousands strong can act as one. Their anger was expressed in a single long, eerie howl. By the time the roof closed it really was getting dark. But Janowicz’s tactics only delayed the inevitable and victory, when it finally came at nearly 10pm, was all the sweeter.
I admit I cheered along with the rest of the fans. Small huddles formed all around as friends and strangers grabbed one another, jumping like excited kids at Christmas.
Then we all turned to watch Murray on the big screen, fist clenched, tired but triumphant. I couldn’t help feel a little stab of pride. Perhaps he’s not such a bad lad after all.
As for today, I reckon I’ll be at home watching the final like the rest of the nation. And I’ll be as chuffed as everyone else if our Andy can end that 77-year wait for a British men’s champion.
I just hope my local Co-op stocks Pimm’s.