As the rain gave way to sunshine and the start of the Wimbledon men's final approached, lovers, friends and families took their turns posing in front of the Fred Perry statue that sits at an entrance to Centre Court. (Read: Who is Roger Federer?)
This was the day when Perry, the last British man to win the singles title here in 1936, might finally get company: the day when Andy Murray was to play the final against Roger Federer. (Read: Roger Federer driven on by fatherhood, age)
It would have been quite something; a national moment; a thunderous start to London's Olympic summer. But nobody in men's tennis does history quite as well as Federer, and though Murray played brilliantly, even bravely at times in this outdoor-indoor final, Federer was the one who ended up falling to the grass in jubilation after a match point. Federer had milestones of his own to celebrate.
Federer's 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 victory gave him a seventh Wimbledon singles title, which ties the men's record shared by William Renshaw and Pete Sampras. It also, at age 30, guaranteed that Federer would reclaim the No. 1 ranking on Monday and that he would break Sampras's record for total weeks with the top ranking.
"It's amazing," Federer said of winning for the seventh time. "It equals me with Pete Sampras, who's my hero."
As for No. 1: "As we know, the world No. 1s, you don't get those gifted," Federer said. "I never stopped believing."
Sunday's final started outdoors but was stopped because of rain at 1-1 in the third set after 2 hours and 2 minutes of play with Federer serving at 40-0. The decision was quickly made to close the retractable roof over Centre Court and when Federer and Murray resumed play 40 minutes later, they were playing indoors.
Murray, the 25-year-old Scot, has now lost to Federer in three Grand Slam singles finals and has lost his first four major finals over all. The only other man in the Open era to lose his first four major singles finals is Ivan Lendl, who ultimately won eight major titles and has been coaching Murray since last December.
But Murray has yet to make his breakthrough, and it was perfectly understandable that he struggled to keep his emotions in check as he addressed the Centre Court crowd after the match. Even if he had become the first British man to reach the final since Henry Austin, better known as Bunny, in 1938, this still felt like a letdown.
"Iam getting closer," the fourth-seeded Murray said through the tears, with his mother, Judy, and girlfriend Kim Sears crying in the players box along with a number of fans with no direct connections to Murray.
"I'd like to congratulate Roger," Murray said when he finally recovered his composure. "I was getting asked the other day after I won my semifinals, 'Is this your best chance? Roger's 30 now.' He's not bad for a 30-year-old. He played a great tournament. I thought he had some struggles early on with his back and showed what fight he still has left in him. So congratulations, you deserve it.'
Considering the hurricane-force of some of the manias that have swept British popular culture, Murray-mania might be too strong a term for what happened before Sunday's final in this island nation.
But there was certainly massive interest, to borrow a British adjective, and hundreds of fans were prepared to camp out in the field across Church Road in the soggy days and nights before Sunday's final in the hope of getting a grounds pass into the All England Club for the chance to watch the match on a big-screen television from Aorangi Terrace, the sloping picnic lawn better known as Henman Hill, after the former British player Tim Henman.
"We were just watching the semifinal on TV and when Andy Murray won, we thought we should jump in the car and join the queue," said Dan Golding, a 23-year-old from Bath, England. "It was just a seed of a thought and then it swayed us when he finally, definitely got there and the reality hit home."
Golding's friend Rosie Erwin, a 23-year-old nurse with "Murray Me" painted on her face, said that she and Golding wanted to be a "part of the history."
But as they camped out in the rain for two nights, they also discovered that not everyone in the nearby tents was a Murray fan.
"There were some guys behind us who were Americans who are supporting Fed," Golding said.
It is another testimony to the appeal of Federer's game and personality that he has managed to divide loyalties even when playing tennis stars in their home countries. It has happened at the French Open when he has faced the likes of Gael Monfils in big, second-week matches. And though Murray was unquestionably the crowd favorite, the atmosphere in Centre Court was not quite a wall of pro-Murray sound.
There were two shouts of "I love you Roger" in the second game alone.
But in the end the prevailing sentiment on Centre Court on Sunday was not joy for Federer but sympathy for Murray, whose tennis dreams, unlike Federer's, have not yet been realized.
"He'll at least win one Grand Slam," Federer said. "This is what I hope for Andy."
A 12th ace in the 10th game took Federer to two match points, the first of which was saved but Murray went wide on a forehand to hand Federer victory.
Â© 2012, The New York Times News Service