GHENT: Bigger than Wimbledon? It was hard to believe, when Andy Murray busted the ghost of Fred Perry on Centre Court three summers ago, that historic moment would not remain the high point of his career. According to Murray himself, though, his own reaction to Davis Cup triumph in Ghent yesterday was even more emotional.
As he rolled on his back in the red clay of the Flanders Arena, and the bodies of his team-mates piled upon him, Murray clearly experienced a -moment of transcendence. He will never look at David Goffin - the small, but steely opponent whom he had just beaten 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 - in quite the same way again.
Part of his exultation related to the feeling of sharing a major title with friends and family for once. In individual tennis - a sport that is even lonelier than boxing - the one constant is the need to be selfish all the time. How delightful, then, to place your talents at the service of the collective for once.
Then there is the timescale of Great Britain's triumphant Davis Cup campaign. Imagine a World Cup in football, cricket or rugby that took an entire year, and had to be fitted in at odd moments between other commitments, for that is how this ancient and increasingly anachronistic competition works. Even then, the four ties of 2015 only represented the final climb to the summit. Go back to the start of Leon Smith's superb term as captain - which has delivered 13 wins and just two defeats since he opened with a lowly Europe/Africa Zone Group III relegation play-off in Eastbourne five years ago - and this unforgettable high has been a very long time coming.
"I'd say that's probably the most emotional I've been after a win," Murray conceded. "It's incredible that we managed to win this competition. I didn't know that would ever be possible."
Few of us did. After all, Great Britain have only one serious singles contender, and the history of the Davis Cup suggests that you need two to be a force. Even then, as Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski discovered in the early 2000s, the going can be full of trip-hazards. But then Murray has broken all pre-cedents this season. Nobody in the history of the Davis Cup has won 11 live rubbers in a single campaign - as he has in 2015 - and remained unbeaten till the end. As team -triumphs go, this one was about as individual as it gets.
Of course, Murray was not quite going it alone. We would not have been here but for James Ward's epic upset of John Isner in the opening match against the United States, nor without the dramatic improvements that Murray's elder brother, Jamie, has made to his own game recently. But, when the Belgians -applied some weekend turbulence - notably in a challenging doubles match on the Saturday - it was the younger sibling who grabbed the controls. Great Britain's hold on the Davis Cup was never more wobbly than when Goffin and Steve Darcis broke for a 2-1 lead in the third set of that match - the first two having been shared. But Andy shepherded his anxious brother through the sticky patch and restored a sense of calm to the cockpit.
Yesterday, Goffin's level of play rose again, under the inspiration of the noisiest crowd of the whole weekend, and he strafed the lines with some gorgeous winners off both flanks. Still, Murray's message was clear throughout: you can hit me with everything you've got, but don't think for one minute that I am going to go down.
To return to boxing for a second (after Murray admitted that he had stayed up on Saturday night to watch Tyson Fury's contribution to a great British sporting weekend) this man has the emotional equivalent of a rock-solid chin. The best example came midway through the second set, after the sprightly Goffin had held for 4-3. As the techno beats that thumped through each changeover died down, the Belgian fans set up a 30?second wall of noise. Murray waited for the caterwauling to cease, stepped up to the line and sent down a sequence of ace, ser-vice winner, ace, ace to hold his next game in the blink of an eye. He thrives off such hostility.
At one point, someone in the crowd screeched "Aiii, Djokovic!" It was a telling shout, for Murray seemed to be channelling the icy fluid that fills his great rival's veins yesterday. Certainly Murray maintained a level of pressure that no-one outside the so-called Big Four - with the possible exception of Stan Wawrinka - could possibly have handled. "I was pumped the whole match," he said, "and the crowd obviously helped with that. I didn't really have any lulls in my level. I was just -really, really focused to try and win that final point."
He also suggested that this sort of relentlessness was unusual for him, and could potentially help him raise his game for his next big commitment - the Australian Open in January. "I need to learn things from this weekend," Murray said. "I made David work for every point."
The last point could not have been more appropriate: a 20-shot rally in which Murray was first wrong-footed and then pulled completely out of the court to both wings. He scrambled every ball back and then, with one last distinctive whip of his racquet, he lifted the ball over the onrushing Goffin with the perfect topspun lob. He was so confident of his touch that he -started celebrating before the ball had fallen obediently into the corner.
Both teams stayed on-site for a while at the Flanders Expo to attend the official Davis Cup final dinner - a function which Djokovic once ducked - but the party was -expected to roll deep into the night. "We'll all remember this year for the rest of our lives, regardless of what happens in the rest of any of our
careers," Murray said. "Nothing may ever top this now. Hopefully, we can win it again next year or we can go on to win grand slams and Wimbledon or the Olympics and stuff."
With a good thousand travelling supporters swarming the mediaeval centre of Ghent last night, all looking to -express their gratitude with a round of drinks, there seemed little chance of the evening turning into an anti-climax. Fully 79 years after our last Davis Cup victory, Murray and his team-mates have certainly earned the appreciation of every British fan.