WIMBLEDON, England – Hope turned to disappointment one more time for Andy Murray and British tennis.
Murray stood closer to the Wimbledon title Sunday than any British man had in three-quarters of a century, two sets away from ending one of the longest waits in British sports.
But he also stood across the net from Roger Federer, who knows better than anyone how to win on Centre Court, and who wasn't about to let "Murray Mania" get in the way of a record-equaling seventh title at the All England Club.
Federer took advantage of a rain delay and a closed roof to outplay Murray the last two sets, assuring that the wait for a homegrown men's Wimbledon champion still has a way to go.
"I'm getting closer," a teary-eyed Murray told the Centre Court crowd after losing to Federer 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
It was the closest any British man had been since Fred Perry won his last Wimbledon title in 1936. Murray had already taken Wimbledon hysteria to a new level at home by becoming the first British man to even reach the final since 1938, when Bunny Austin lost in straight sets.
In a final that began in bright sunshine, Murray gave the country and his multitude of fans reason to believe he could go one better by winning the first set. But when the rain came, and the roof closed, Murray simply couldn't deal with Federer's perfect timing indoors.
The Swiss star went on to secure his seventh Wimbledon title. And for the fourth time in four Grand Slam finals, Murray was left to give the runner-up's acceptance speech. With his voice cracking, Murray thanked the crowd for sticking by him yet again.
"Everybody always talks about the pressure of playing at Wimbledon, how tough it is," said Murray, who lost in the semifinals the last three years. "It's not the people watching. They make it so much easier to play. The support has been incredible, so thank you."
The Scotsman has a mixed relationship with British fans and media — some refer to him as a Brit when he wins and a Scot when he loses. But his popularity seems greater than ever following Friday's semifinal victory against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
And with the country so eager to see a homegrown champion in its most prestigious annual sports event, the Royal Box on Centre Court was filled with dignitaries, politicians and celebrities. Among them was Prime Minister David Cameron, Prince William's wife, the former Kate Middleton, and David Beckham.
At 10 Downing Street, the Scottish flag was flying in recognition of Murray's achievement. Tickets to Centre Court sold for thousands of dollars online.
And on Aorangi Terrace — the large slope at the All England Club previously known as Henman Hill and now commonly referred to as Murray Mount — thousands gathered to watch the match on a giant video screen and witness what they hoped would be history. Many of them camped overnight for tickets, others arrived hours before the match and sat through heavy morning rain showers to get a good spot.
Among them was John Greenough, his wife and their four children, all with a letter each on their shirts to spell out "Murray." After the match, Greenough stood with a Union flag wrapped around his shoulders. He felt "great pride" in Murray's performance.
"You could see what it meant to Andy, and it's the same for the entire country," said Greenough, whose shirt bore a large blue M. "We were really upbeat after the first set. He couldn't have tried any harder. Federer was just in his own class, really."
The gatherings on Murray Mount have become a Wimbledon tradition nearly as familiar as strawberries and cream. The crowds there watched Tim Henman lose four semifinals. They were also around for Murray's previous three semis. But this time was meant to be different.
In a summer of sports in Britain, with the London Olympics coming up, many had hoped Murray could finally win in the same year as Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee, celebrating her 60-year reign. The last time a British woman won Wimbledon was when Virginia Wade did it in 1977, the year of the queen's Silver Jubilee.
Expectations on Murray had also been ramping up since Rafael Nadal was knocked out in the second round, opening Murray's side of the draw.
"Murray, poor soul," said 71-year-old Margaret Chittick, who has been coming to Wimbledon for 12 years. "He has the weight of the whole nation on his shoulders."
That weight may only get heavier, until the day he's finally able to lift that elusive golden trophy. Having ended one British drought by finally reaching the final, the expectations are only set to increase next year. Murray, though, thinks he can handle it.
"It's not an easy tournament for British players in many ways, but I think I dealt with all of the extra things away from the tournament pretty well, better than maybe I had done in the past," Murray said. "Yeah, it was my first time in a Wimbledon final. I'd never been there before. I played three semis beforehand. So I'm still improving, still playing better tennis, trying to improve, which is all I can do."
On this day, though, a lone Scottish bag pipe played solemnly on Murray Mount. As the sun came back out and the sky cleared again shortly after the match, a rainbow could be seen toward central London. That was enough for many to hold out hope.
"One day he'll win it, with any luck," Greenough said. "Give him a year or two, he'll get there."