For a while, it looked as if tennis had produced something like its own version of baseball's "Curse of the Bambino." Only this one would be called the "Curse of Perry."
In 2013, Andy Murray mastered Novak Djokovic to become the first British man since Fred Perry some 75 years earlier to win Wimbledon. The win lifted Murray's record against Djokovic to a respectable 11-8, which also included a win over the Serbian patriot in the semifinals of the London Olympics.
Since that seismic victory at Wimbledon, though, Murray had been winless against Djokovic in eight consecutive tries over more than two years. But Sunday in the Rogers Cup final, Murray finally got his groove back in a grueling seesaw struggle, with Murray prevailing against Djokovic for the Masters 1000 title in 2 hours, 58 minutes, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.
The men's final wasn't the only enthralling final of the day, though. Just 350 miles away, in Toronto, Belinda Bencic and Simona Halep were unable to resolve their disagreements before the 3 p.m. local start time for the men in Montreal.
The women took turns winning tiebreakers on a frying pan of a center court and had just hit the 2½-hour mark with Bencic holding a slim lead, when Halep, swooning and dehydrated, declared no mas. Bencic took the win by walkover 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 3-0. It was just the second title of her career, but the win will leave her knocking on the door of the top 10, at No. 12, when the rankings are issued Monday.
"I don't think I'm so good at speeches yet," the 18-year-old said, before showing the good sense to thank the fitness coach who helped her overcome the ill effects of her three-set upset of top-seeded Serena Williams less than 24 hours earlier.
As for Murray, he sailed into his final in far better shape to play a match he sorely wanted to win. More importantly, it was a match he surely needed to win. Murray had played some terrific tennis this year, but given his status as a member of the Big Four, he had precious little hardware to show for it at the majors. The straight-sets loss to Roger Federer at Wimbledon, where both men were playing well, had to be especially dispiriting.
Murray habitually does a lot of damage on hard courts in the summer and fall, though. Eager to keep building on the momentum he'd built during the clay- and grass-court segments, he unexpectedly entered the Washington, D.C., 500. He even showed up early to improve his chances -- only to fall victim in his first start to No. 53 Teymuraz Gabashvili, who simply played a sensational match.
But Murray picked himself up and produced perhaps the most guileful, well-rounded and stable (that's always a key with Murray) performance of his year thus far. We saw some of the stunts that make Murray such a pleasure to watch even on those occasions he's beating himself up like some deranged Hamlet.
At one point, Murray ran down a Djokovic lob and answered with the one shot nobody could have expected from his awkward position -- a lob of his own. There was the usual quota of squash-shot forehands he used to keep points alive. Does anyone else hit a two-handed backhand as if the racket were a sand wedge?
At times, Murray's serve was a liability. At other times, Djokovic's superior consistency threatened to smother the fire in Murray and force him to melt down in the all-too-familiar ways. But Murray hung in there. He remained cool.
The turning point probably was the fifth game of the final set, which featured 10 deuces and lasted nearly 18 minutes. Murray faced seven break points before he managed a hold to preserve his one-break lead, 4-1.
Murray had three match points in the eighth game, with Djokovic serving at 2-5. Djokovic was trying to establish an ATP record by winning a fifth consecutive Masters 1000 title; he wasn't about to go gently into the Canadian night. He held serve.
In that final game, Murray fell behind 15-40. But he found his serve and rode it home, winning his fifth match point.
Now that the Curse of Perry appears broken, who knows what the future may hold for him?