The first time Andy Murray sat behind the rather grand desk in the main interview room at Wimbledon, he seemed dramatically out of place, a churchmouse of a lad, with a wee Scottish voice that cracked and spluttered, his eyes either trained on his long, fidgeting fingers or roaming the walls in search of distraction.
He wanted to look anywhere but at his inquisitors that day in 2005. We hardly knew what to make of him, except that he was obviously gifted, good enough to reach the third round at his first attempt. Eight attempts later, he sat in the same chair, the voice a little deeper but still halting, the eyes more sure of their target, perhaps, the long fingers, much stronger than the teenage digits, lightly wrapped around the base of the microphone that has become almost as familiar to him as the rackets with which he had just created history.
He is a grown, muscled champion of 6ft 3in now, owner of the men's singles title. Let's say that again: owner of the men's singles title. We may even have to repeat it a few more times in years to come.
He looked out at the admiring eyes trained on him on Sunday night (the room was considerably more rammed than it had been eight years previously) before heading to the champions' dinner in a flash London hotel he would probably avoid as if it were a leper colony on any other occasion, and he said thanks. To everybody. To those who doubted him, and those who believed. Bud Collins, as venerable a figure as there is in tennis hackery, stood up to say he'd known Fred Perry and that, year after year at Wimbledon, the old boy, "kept hoping this day would happen … and I'm glad to report that it did happen".
Murray, who knows Collins but never met Perry, said a simple, "Thank you".
So, what to make of his achievement? Curiously, it transcended the performance. Although Djokovic was generous in defeat, there were too many mistakes, the majority from him, to say that this was a memorable final – well not for the flickering excellence of the tennis, anyway. It will always be remembered for the intensity and the drama, the oh so nervous conclusion as Murray took and threw away three championship points before forcing a final error from his weary foe.
But it established Murray as Djokovic's peer, no question. He has beaten the world No1 now in two of their three consecutive grand slam finals, in New York last September and on Sunday. In between, the Serb beat him in Melbourne, and retains his ranking this morning, as does Murray, just behind him.
They are the two best players in the world. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal contest third and fourth place, although the admirable David Ferrer officially separates them at No4. Those quibbles aside, there is a new age breaking, and Murray and Djokovic are its leaders.
It has lately become impossible to confidently pick a winner when they meet, certainly on grass or the hard courts at Flushing Meadows and in Australia. I thought Djokovic would win on Sunday, for the record. Murray would start favourite to beat Federer on those surfaces, having done so last year at the Olympics then in the semi-finals in Melbourne, a defining moment in both their careers. He would not yet claim parity with Nadal on clay. Nobody would.
But what Murray did on Sunday was open a door to the future, not just for himself but for those not that far behind him, such as the outrageously talented Pole Jerzy Janowicz, who took a set off him in the semi-finals. Grigor Dimitrov lurks dangerously too, along with those who have been pressing their case in vain for a few years: Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the heroic Juan Martín del Potro, who almost beat Djokovic in the first semi-final.
Murray will take none of this for granted. He will not assume that his second slam title entitles him to walk with any more of a strut. He respects his rivals too much to indulge in that folly. But neither will he deny that this is the next phase of his career, because, although winning one slam title was wonderful in itself, as was taking Olympic gold, securing his second major wipes away any suspicion that victory in New York was a one-off, when the wind blew kindly for him and every stroke clicked.
No title won over seven five-set matches in a fortnight is a fluke. It is a war to be won in an era where physical sacrifice is not just likely it is compulsory. As Murray remarked before slipping way to put on his dinner jacket, the three sets he played on Sunday felt like five, because they were tough in nearly every point. The closing game of the match was also the toughest he has ever played.
That is the level he has reached. This is a different game these guys play at the end of a grand slam tournament. And the decider is not that much like even the six that go before them en route, and entirely unrelated to three-setters in the relative serenity of Shanghai or Rome. Centre Court at Wimbledon, like all the others, is a testing ground, and, as much as Murray appreciated the support of everyone who was willing him to win – even the media – he knew that he was alone, really. He did it himself, with his own talent, in his own way.
And let's hope he gets to do it again, because we do not want to be hanging around another 77 years for the next Andy Murray.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Ian Dick