Published July 07, 2012
LONDON – Andy Murray has messed up a lot of people's weekend plans.
Murray's surprise victory in the Wimbledon semifinals, after losing at the same stage three years running, has left British royalty, politicians and celebrities — and millions of ordinary folk — scrambling for a spot to watch Sunday's showdown between the Scot and Roger Federer.
By powering past France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to become the first British man to reach the final in 74 years, Murray took Britain's collective mind off the dreary weather and dismal economy and gave the country a new hero — at least for now.
"Finally!" was the one-word front page headline in Saturday's Daily Mirror. The Sun opted for the slightly longer: "Andy Finally."
The joy was tempered by surprise that Murray had really pulled it off — and a sense that it would be tempting fate to expect him to beat Federer and become the first British Wimbledon men's champion since Fred Perry in 1936.
Bunny Austin made the final two years later, but lost. Virginia Wade won the women's title in 1977.
It's not that the country's not happy. It's just surprised that one of the oldest traditions in sport — a Brit-free final at Britain's premier tennis tournament — is at an end.
"A nation unites in disbelief," said the front-page story in The Times newspaper, "for the impossible has taken place before our eyes."
The Daily Mail asked what many were thinking: "Now can he finish the job?"
Murray insisted that he can.
"It will be one of the biggest matches of my life," Murray said after Friday's semifinal. "It's a great challenge. One where I'm probably not expected to win the match, but one that, you know, if I play well, I'm capable of winning."
The intense and taciturn Murray has always evoked mixed feelings in his homeland — the joke runs that he is British when he wins and Scottish when he loses.
Now that he's a winner, politicians in both London and Edinburgh are scrambling to support the tennis star.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who plans to attend the final, announced that a Scottish Saltire flag would fly alongside the Union Jack at 10 Downing St. on Sunday in support of Murray.
Cameron said it was "great news that we have our first homegrown men's finalist at Wimbledon for over 70 years, especially in this exciting Olympics year when the eyes of the world are on the U.K."
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond — who wants Scotland to break away from Britain — also sent his congratulations.
"The whole of Scotland will be right behind Andy on Sunday, and I'll be there in person to help cheer him on," Salmond said.
Murray will also have royal support at Centre Court in the form of the former Kate Middleton. St. James's Palace said the Duchess of Cambridge would attend the final, although her husband Prince William and Queen Elizabeth II have prior commitments.
Those not on the A-list can still get seats for the final — at a price. On eBay, bidding on a pair of tickets topped 2,500 pounds ($4,000) on Saturday.
Can he do it? Murray has beaten Federer in eight of their 15 matches, though never in a Grand Slam final. Bookmaker Ladbrokes made Federer — aiming for his seventh Wimbledon title — the 1/2 favorite, offering 13/8 odds on a Murray victory.
Whatever happens Sunday, Murray Mount, the fans' gathering place at Wimbledon, has finally lived up to its name. Many still think of it by its old identity, Henman Hill, after another British hopeful who never quite made the grade.
"It was a great atmosphere, it's my first year here and it was brilliant," said 24-year-old Thomas Lowry, who came from Ireland to watch the semifinal, and was considering coming back on Sunday.
"From early on we thought he would win. I think he'll win the final as well. If it goes to a fourth or fifth set he'll definitely win."
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless