WIMBLEDON, England – There it is again. That cruel word used to label an athlete who has come tantalizingly close to his or her sport's biggest prize and fallen just short.
It is an ugly word for Great Britain's Andy Murray, who believes the unflattering term doesn't apply to him. Yet the world's fourth-ranked tennis player knows that a loss in Sunday's Olympic men's singles final before a vocal, home-nation crowd would see it wheeled out and cast in his direction once more.
Murray will take on Roger Federer, the grandest of the sport's current trio of masters, on the same Wimbledon Centre Court where he lost to the Swiss star exactly four weeks earlier in the final of tennis' most traditional and prized of tournaments.
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Back then, Murray had history to overcome – no British man has won Wimbledon since Fred Perry way back in 1936. Now it is a different kind of pressure, a different kind of experience and a different mentality at the All England Lawn and Tennis Club.
"In terms of enjoyment, it's probably the most fun I've had at a tennis tournament," said Murray after his 7-5, 7-5 semifinal victory over Novak Djokovic. "The atmosphere is different to anything I've experienced before. We always said that night matches at the U.S. Open gave the best atmosphere, but they're not even close to what it was here.
"It was one of the biggest wins of my career. I haven't stopped smiling since I came off the court. Even afterward, all the volunteers and staff are just so pumped, so happy. We normally just get the people on our own support team congratulating us after we've won a tournament. It's so, so different at this event."
However much Murray has relished the Olympic adventure, losing yet another final would leave the most bitter of aftertastes. He has reached the last hurdle of four Grand Slam events, losing each time while winning just one of 13 sets. Three times, Federer has been his conqueror, Djokovic once.
At Wimbledon this year, Murray took a one-set lead and had chances in the second before Federer clawed back to win in four sets. Two days later, Murray went back to the scene of his defeat, sat alone in the stands, wondered what might have been and vowed not to let such a golden opportunity slip by again.
His chance has come quicker than he might have been expected and, although Olympic tennis does not carry Grand Slam status, it would feel like one to Murray.
"I don't think trying to get revenge really helps," Murray said. "The one thing I'm hoping is that because he hasn't played for a singles gold medal before that it might even things up. Every time we've played before, he's experienced whatever way more than me. But this is something new to him, like me."
Federer will go in as the favorite, but the playing field might have been leveled a little by the marathon semifinal the world No. 1 was forced to survive against Juan Martin del Potro. The longest three-set match in Olympics and Open tennis history was decided 19-17 in the final frame.
Another factor may be the patriotic British crowd, which resembled a soccer-style atmosphere against Djokovic. Among Wimbledon regulars, Federer's popularity is so high that the support during the final was relatively mixed. That will be far from the case on Sunday, as Murray seeks redemption, a gold medal and, of course, the chance to rid that unwanted tag.
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