At the Net: Murray the Magnificent

It wasn't a Wimbledon title, but it was darn near close...if not just as good.

Andy Murray broke through with the biggest win of his career this past weekend by toppling world No. 1 Roger Federer to capture Olympic gold at the story- filled London Games.

The London resident, as you would expect, said the victory was "the biggest win of my life."

The 25-year-old star had been trying unsuccessfully for years to get over the enormous hump that is Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but had always been unable to do so at tennis' biggest events. Until now.

The native of Scotland represented Great Britain in the best possible way at the storied All England Club, where he fought his way past the world No. 2 and recent No. 1 Djokovic in straight sets in the semifinals at the Olympic men's tennis event, and then outlasted Federer in three sets in the marquee gold- medal match to produce a civic orgasm for the British faithful on the middle Sunday at the world's greatest sporting event.

It was only four weeks earlier when Murray suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Federer in the Wimbledon finale on the hallowed lawns at the AEC. A sobbing Murray was unable to compose himself last month during the on- court post-match interview, endearing him to the Wimbledon champion-starved British fans. The unusual display of emotion took fans and detractors by surprise and also brought his long-time girlfriend Kim Sears and mother Judy Murray to tears in the stands.

That loss dropped the always-capable Scot to 0-4 in career Grand Slam finals, with three of the setbacks coming against the sweet-swinging Swiss legend that is Federer. Murray tried to give the Brits their first male Wimbledon singles champ since Fred Perry in 1936, but it wasn't meant to be, not last month. Instead, Murray settled for becoming the first British male to reach a Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938 and the only one to reach the Wimby final in the Open Era (since 1968).

It wasn't much of a consolation prize for Murray, who at least took a set off Federer this time. The Brit had dropped all nine sets in his previous three major finals -- two against Federer and one versus Djokovic.

But with an Olympic gold medal now draped around his neck, maybe Murray has finally turned the "Big Three" into the "Big Four." Or does he still have to win a Slam? That's still debatable.

However, it's hard to think of a bigger winning scenario in tennis than the one that played out for Murray in (or near) London. Beating Federer and Djokovic on Centre Court, at the Olympics, and on home soil.

Pretty impressive.

By the way, the reigning Australian Open and U.S. Open titlist Djokovic wound up being shut out of the medals altogether. Shocking, really.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer owns a men's tri-record seven Wimbledon titles and had been 7-1 in finals on the famed Centre Court until Sunday. It wasn't a Wimbledon 'proper' loss, but it was a loss nonetheless on "his" court. Federer's lone finals setback on Centre Court came against his great rival Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon finale, a tennis match that many consider to be the greatest of all-time (and why not?).

Murray's complete arsenal was on display at the AEC -- a big, ever-improving serve, thunderous groundstrokes, terrific speed and court coverage, a top- shelf return game, and maybe now, that elusive mental toughness, which he's gotten considerable help with from his current coach, the legendary Ivan Lendl (whom, like Murray, also does not own a coveted Wimbledon championship).

Oddly enough, Lendl was not on hand with his star pupil last week, although he did stay in touch with the Dunblane native via telephone.

A third-seeded Murray somehow made the great Federer look slow and confused in a match that was certainly no classic. A clinical Murray rattled off nine straight games against the Fed at one point. Nine straight against Federer, who seemed out of sorts just two days after holding off eventual bronze medalist Juan Martin del Potro in the longest tennis match in Olympic history, a 4 1/2-hour semifinal epic.

"Maybe there was so much emotion already out of me that it kind of hindered me from playing my absolute very best," the silver medalist Federer said after falling to Murray.

FYI: Murray currently boasts a winning lifetime record against Federer, at 9-8.

The massive victory by Murray gave the Brits their first male Olympic singles tennis champion in 104 years (but who's counting?), following in the footsteps of John Pius Boland (1900), Laurence Doherty (1904), Josiah Ritchie (1908 outdoors) and Arthur Gore (1908 indoors).

Murray, of course, is now the newest and biggest national hero at home after supplying Team GB with its sexiest gold of the Games. And he also paired with Laura Robson to capture a silver medal in the mixed doubles on Sunday, which gives him the best individual British Olympic medal haul since Charles Dixon in Stockholm in 1912.

Murray, as you may or may not know, hails from a town with a tragic past.

About 400 miles north of London lies the handsome little town of Dunblane, which is where Murray went to school as a child.

On March 13, 1996, a then eight-year-old Murray was in attendance on the day of the "Dunblane School Massacre," when a 43-year-old gunman named Thomas Hamilton killed 17 people before turning one of his four guns on himself. Murray took cover in the Dunblane Primary School gymnasium that day and was unharmed while Hamilton opened fire on several classrooms packed with children ages from 5 to 11.

Needless to say, a town like Dunblane needed a magical moment like the one Murray produced on Sunday.

On a much lighter note, Murray now owns 23 career titles at the ATP level, though most will say his tennis resume will be incomplete if he fails to deliver a Grand Slam title. But by beating Federer in "Federer's" house, one would have to think he's taken a pretty big step in that direction.