NEW YORK — As he stood on the precipice of history, three games from becoming the first British man to win a Grand Slam tournament since 1936, Andy Murray scowled.
His expression matched the windy weather for this U.S. Open final Monday night, the nearly five hours that it lasted and the weight of seven decades worth of expectations placed on Murray the minute his career began.
Murray said his legs felt like jelly. Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, kept coming, his shoes squeaking, until after 306 points each man had won exactly half. Murray stared down fatigue and history and wind and doubt, elevating his game to a place it had never been before.
When the match ended, after Djokovic's return sailed long, Murray covered his face with this hands, his wild 7-6 (12-10), 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 triumph complete.
Djokovic met Murray at the net. They hugged. Murray walked from their embrace in a daze, with one hand or both hands covering his mouth. It was as if he could not believe what happened, like the emotions were too fresh, too raw.
"Novak is so, so strong. He fights until the end in every single match," Murray said. "I don't know how I managed to come through in the end."
The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium rose and roared for Murray, 25, the perennial loser turned sentimental favorite turned, finally, into a Grand Slam winner.
"I don't know how I came through in the end," Murray said. "I just managed to get through."
Murray vs. Djokovic was a test of will as much as skill, lasting 4 hours, 54 minutes, tying the record for longest U.S. Open final. The first-set tiebreaker's 22 points set a tournament mark. They repeatedly produced fantastic, tales-in-themselves points, lasting 10, 20, 30, even 55 strokes, counting the serve. The crowd gave a standing ovation to salute one 30-stroke point in the fourth set that ended with Murray's forehand winner as Djokovic fell to the court, slamming on his left side.
By the end, Djokovic — who had won eight consecutive five-set matches, including in the semifinals (against Murray) and final (against Rafael Nadal) at the Australian Open in January — was the one looking fragile, trying to catch breathers and doing deep knee bends at the baseline to stretch his aching groin muscles. After getting broken to trail 5-2 in the fifth, Djokovic had his legs massaged by a trainer.
"I really tried my best," Djokovic said.
The lack of a Grand Slam title for Murray, and for his country, has been the subject of much conversation and consternation in the United Kingdom, where the first of what would become tennis' top titles was at awarded at Wimbledon in 1877.
Djokovic was bidding for his sixth major title, fifth in the past two seasons. He had won 27 Grand Slam hard-court matches in a row.
Murray had known the statistics as well as anyone, knew the length of the drought and his own failure in four previous Grand Slam finals, including at Wimbledon this summer. He knew his coach, Ivan Lendl, also lost his first four major championship finals and still ended up with eight Slam singles trophies.
But he provided his homeland with an emphatic exclamation point in his magical summer: runner-up at Wimbledon, Olympic gold medalist and now U.S. Open champion.
During the post-match ceremony, Murray joked about Lendl's reaction: "I think that was almost a smile."
"I want to congratulate Andy for his first Grand Slam," Djokovic said. "He absolutely deserves it."
Throughout the past two weeks, when Djokovic cruised into the semifinals without losing a set, Murray advanced on shakier footing. He looked unbeatable in some matches, very beatable in others.
Regardless, he continued to insist that his Olympic victory relieved an enormous amount of pressure, from years of questions about his failure to win a Slam. He acknowledged he "maybe had less doubts about myself and my place in the game" afterward. His last goal: to win a major tournament.