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Town rises and falls with Murray

Dunblane: Inside Dunblane Youth Centre, strangers hugged, fists were pumped and children cheered. Boys lay on chairs shaped like tennis balls. Girls with Scottish flags painted on their cheeks wove through the crowd chanting, “Let’s go, Andy!”

The room was so crammed with people breathing stale, warm air that personal space seemed more an extravagance than a basic courtesy, but no one seemed to mind because up there, on the giant projection screen, was one of them.

The people of this village 30 miles northeast of Glasgow have congregated before, have packed its pubs and its social halls and its gathering spots, to watch their most famous son compete at Wimbledon. For three straight years, Andy Murray had reached the semi-finals, and for three straight years, Murray had lost. They lauded his effort — “the Scots love a valiant loser,” said Gordon Sloan, of nearby Greenloaning — but yearned for glory. “We’ve been teased a lot these past few years,” David Macaskill of Dundee said. “A lot of Scottish hearts broken.”

That chance for glory came Sunday, against the indomitable Roger Federer. A country prayed. A town hoped.

Sitting at a table in the Dunblane Bowling Club, Doreen Rose tried convincing herself before the match that Murray could win, should win, would win. “He’s won 8 of 15 matches against Federer,” said Rose, of nearby Callendar. “But they’ve never played on grass. Oh, I don’t know. I’m so nervous, I can’t think.”

Murray captured the first two games of the first set (“Come on, Andy!”), then lost the next two (“Go get ’em, Andy!”). When Murray broke Federer to go ahead, 5-4, Malky McLachlan of Dunblane was standing against a wall. He was cradling his 16-month-old son, Magnus, who was sleeping through the commotion — and through what was Murray’s first set won in a Grand Slam final. “Maybe he’ll see more history when he wakes up,” McLachlan said.

Magnus woke up about a half-hour later, when Murray was toiling through an arduous second set. Federer broke Murray at 5-6, and Sheena Herley of Dunblane sensed a shift in the mood. “It’s a wee bit subdued now,” Herley said.

Herley moved to Dunblane two years ago. She was so engrossed that she would forget to eat. Even if she wanted to, she could not. “Too nervous,” Herley said. “I’ve got butterflies in my tummy.”

Standing outside with her four children, Liz Kirkhope tried to focus on what she perceived as a good omen. At the bowling club next door, after play resumed early in the third set following a rain delay, Charlotte Candlish rose from her chair and lashed imaginary forehands and backhands. She had spent Saturday night sewing the banner that hung high above the bowling green — “Good Luck, Andy,” with a heart pierced by an arrow.

When Federer won an intense sixth game that lasted 26 points, Candlish pointed to the television across the room and said of Murray, “Is he winning over there yet?” Told no, she started walking around, hoping her luck — his luck — would change. “All this talking’s putting him off,” Rose said. “Let’s stop for a few points.”

The silence did not last. Neither did Murray’s hopes. Federer dusted Murray in the fourth set. Murray saved one match point, but not a second. His forehand sailed long. Federer won, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. Inside the youth center, heads were shaken and eyebrows were furrowed and lips were pursed but no one made a sound. Five seconds passed. Then 10. Then 15. Almost at once, the crowd started clapping. A Scottish flag was waved. “Come on, Andy” was yelled. When Murray cried during his on-court speech, he was not alone.

Someday, Macaskill said, he hoped that Dunblane could toast a champion. “He’s getting closer,” Macaskill said. “Just like he said.”

The pubs stayed open, and the revelry continued, despite the loss. After all, the Dunblane Hotel had prepared by putting Champagne on ice, and Sloan said he would be shocked if it were still unopened by morning. Sitting outside the Village Inn, Sloan said he would “celebrate another good Scottish failure.”

“We’ve gotten pretty good at that,” he said. “I’d love to be going completely ballistic right now and pouring beer over your head, man, but I’m not. That’s okay, though. We’ll do it next year.”