LONDON — Britain was seized by a fever Sunday.
"Murray Mania" spread through the nation as an estimated 20 million people prepared to watch Andy Murray from Scotland fight to become the first British winner of the men’s singles in the Wimbledon lawn tennis championship since 1936.
Murray faces Swiss champion Roger Federer, a six-time winner of the trophy striving to equal the score set by American Pete Sampras, a seven-time Wimbledon winner.
Photos: 'Murray Mania'
Britons woke to newspaper headlines: “Andy we’re praying for you,” on the front of the populist Daily Mail, and “Andy make our day” pleaded the left-wing, more intellectual Observer, and the Wimbledon final dominated TV and radio news.
In Murray’s native Scotland the national paper, the Scotsman, reported Scottish flags flying in his hometown of Dunblane, where both his grandmothers were suffering from pre-match nerves.
“Andy has worked so hard and he deserves to win… We wish him all the best. We’ll say a wee prayer for him,” said 78-year-old Ellen Murray, who was 2 years old when Fred Perry became Britain's last men’s singles winner at Wimbledon.
Thousands braved rainswept conditions to reach the Wimbledon grounds in southwest London in time to watch the match.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, were among the spectators along with a huge Scottish crowd ready to cheer from the stands and watch the giant screen from "Murray Mound," the newly christened hill inside the Wimbledon grounds.
Both leaders sent good-luck wishes to Murray.
“It’s a unique moment for any Scot,” said Salmond in media coverage. Over at the prime minister’s residence on Downing Street, the British flag was replaced by Scotland’s blue-and-white national flag for the occasion.
Around the country people spent Sunday afternoon in front of TV screens.
Philip Tomlin, a 35-year-old financier and keen tennis watcher in north London, said he couldn’t join his pals in front of the big screen set up outside London’s riverside Tate Modern art gallery.
“I’ll be watching at home. Murray’s got a good chance, I reckon — he’s got a new coach who's helped him with the mental side of the game, which was his weakness.”
Lilian del Gaudio from Brazil, watching at home in London, is a new tennis aficionado. “I don’t watch tennis, but I realize how important Wimbledon is in this country and how [the final] has changed the atmosphere of the place in the last few days. If he wins it would be a great day for Britain,” said the 31-year-old teacher.
In the Warwickshire village of Long Compton in West England, 82-year-old Susan Gladstone couldn’t wait to settle in front of the TV. “I haven’t got time to see you today,” she told a visitor, “I’ve got to watch the tennis.”
The Daily Telegraphy collected comments from Murray-watchers across the ocean. “We keep in touch with streaming mobile broadband on our Mac and we predict a win for Andy!!!” messaged John Quarterman and family from the Indian Ocean off western Australia.
Murray himself is geared for a challenge, he told interviewers. “The one thing I can guarantee is that I'll fight my absolute heart out. I need to give everything I have from the first point to the last.”
Photos: Serena Williams earns fifth Wimbledon singles title
One of the most coveted prizes of tennis' Grand Slam events, the Wimbledon trophy has long eluded British players. After Fred Perry’s victory of 1936, the next British winner was Virginia Wade in the ladies’ singles in 1977. But this year may be a turning point. Murray’s fight for victory follows the surprise men’s doubles’ win Saturday by unknown Briton Jonathan Marray partnered by Danish Frederik Nielsen.
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Photo: A shop window display in Dunblane, Scotland shows support for Andy Murray ahead of his Wimbledon tennis final against Roger Federer. Credit: Scott Heppell / Associated Press.