Long-suffering Brits endure more Wimbledon heartache
After 76 years of national pain, British tennis fans will have to wallow in disappointment for at least another 12 months after enduring torrential rain and a hail storm of Swiss bullets that ended Andy Murray's Wimbledon hopes on Sunday.
A day that started with dreams of a great British millstone being erased from the record books ended as a rain-soaked nightmare with sodden fans trudging away having seen Roger Federer blast his way to another title.
National fervour had gripped the country since Murray beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Friday to set up a mouth-watering final, with stories circulating of Centre Court tickets changing hands for more than £10,000.
Sixteen Grand Slam titles ensured the Swiss started as favourite, but it seemed nobody wanted to miss the chance of seeing Murray become the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936.
Some had travelled from the far end of the country and even queued and camped over the weekend just to get into the grounds to watch Murray's bid on a big screen.
They crammed on to the sloping patch of earth named "Henman Hill", after its namesake Tim's Wimbledon exploits a decade ago, but it would have been more aptly named "Heaving Hill" as not a single patch of grass was left uncovered just before the match started.
Their dedication had been pushed to the limits as sheeting rain greeted their arrival, but there was still a bubbling sense of optimism that Murray could overcome the odds.
"If we cheer loud enough, he might just do it," said Paul Hansford who had arrived in the queue five hours before the gates opened.
For others there was a sense of destiny.
"It's the London Olympics, the Queen's Jubilee, this is our year," said Sabina Auckburally, who had travelled with her mother from Gatwick and Southampton and arrived as dawn was breaking at the All England Club.
Ironically the first person in the queue for ground passes was a Federer fan from Toronto, who had been waiting in line since before Murray's semi-final had even finished.
Scarlett Li was there to see "the King go back to where he rightfully belongs".
The great and the good were also keen to muscle in on the occasion as British Prime Minister David Cameron joined Prince William's wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, in the royal box, along with former England football captain David Beckham.
Inside Centre Court grey skies and squally showers had given way to a piercing sun when the umpire called time on the warm-up and Murray strode out to receive serve.
A deathly hush among the Union Jack clad fans was followed by a murmur as two solid Murray backhands tested the Swiss while a Federer error handed the first point to Murray, causing the crowd to erupt.
A deafening roar followed the ace that brought up Murray's first set points and when Federer banged his next return straight into the turf the crowd exploded again as their hero clenched his fist in celebration.
That was as good as it got for those inside the stadium and the desperate hordes on the hill. There was an oppressive tension in the groans and murmurs that greeted the Briton's every error and as the match wore on and Federer got on top those began to multiply.
The Swiss clinched the second set with a backhand volley and Centre Court was reduced to polite applause.
Then the rain came down in sheets. Outside, many scampered for cover while the brave toughed it out first physically and then emotionally as Federer returned to court under the roof with his A-game firing.
Rhythmic claps and cheers of "Andy, Andy" reverberated around as Murray sat on his seat and Federer prepared to serve for the match; even the Prime Minister joined in.
Then Murray sent a forehand wide and Federer collapsed to the turf to receive the ovation he deserved having equalled Pete Sampras's record of seven Wimbledon titles and crushed British dreams.
Murray had been carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders and choked on his words as he tried to address the crowd.
"I'm going to try this and it's not going to be easy," he quivered, trying not to look at his girlfriend Kim Sears who had also broken down in tears.
As fans trudged away from the rain-sodden slope there was appreciation for the effort along with muted disappointment in the result.
"I'm gutted, he played some really good tennis but Federer is just a champion," said Valerie Hinds, who was wearing a Union Jack rain coat.
"We have been through the sun and the rain, but there was proper British spirit today," her mother Carolyn Mason replied, wearing a matching patriot outfit.
"He'll be back next year," she added, when it will be 77 years since Fred Perry delighted a nation as the last British man to win the title.