By Ossian Shine
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - For Andy Murray, there have been highs. Then there was this.
On a small, green patch of scorched acrylic some 9,000 kilometres (5592 miles) from home, the Scot achieved a unique Olympic feat, converting heart and guts and sweat into Rio gold.
With victory over Juan-Martin del Potro, the 29-year-old claimed a status unmatched by any of those peers with whom he is often less than favourably compared - two Olympics singles crowns.
Forget the five Australian Open runners-up finishes and the French Open final defeat. Forget that his three grand slam titles is 14 shy of Roger Federer's record haul, or 11 short of Pete Sampras and Rafa Nadal.
No matter that among the 'Big Four' Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray, the Scot is the only one not to have completed the full collection of grand slam crowns.
Now he has eclipsed them, though the man himself would never be so immodest.
"I don't think I would say that," he smiled.
But still, no other tennis player, man or woman, has defended an Olympic singles crown. And now Murray has two Olympic golds.
He did it with a typically dynamic display of baseline tennis seasoned with smart forays to the net, pinpoint serving when it mattered, and ironman fitness.
Del Potro, conqueror of both Djokovic and Nadal here, at 6ft 6ins (1.98m) was somehow a fitting giant to fell. The Argentine put up a valiant fight before going down 7-5 4-6 6-2 7-5.
It was not always pretty, played out in front of a noisy, chanting Latin crowd, in a sometimes soccer stadium atmosphere, but it was a compelling spectacle in which, from one perspective, Murray elevated himself above his illustrious peers and predecessors.
Little wonder he clutched his head in the centre of the court and fought back tears when he finally clinched victory after a four-hour-two-minute battle.
Burying his head in his towel, Murray shook with emotion as the Olympic podium was hastily assembled, and dozens of photographers swarmed the net like camera-wielding hornets jostling for place.
The crowd roared 'ole ole ole' as Murray walked to the side of the court to greet fans, many of whom were clad in Argentine soccer shirts and had been screaming against him all evening.
Now though, they hailed him, leaping high to catch soaking sweatbands thrown by the player, and lifting iPads, phones and other tablets to capture the moment digitally. Something for Facebook, and Twitter and to prove to friends and family that they had been there.
"Tonight was one of the hardest matches I have played," Murray said in the bowels of the tennis stadium, a British flag draped round his shoulders.
"I know the fact it has not been done before means it is very hard to do, and I am very, very proud to be the first one to have done it.
"Four years is a long time, a lot can happen. I had back surgery between London and now... I've gone through some tough times on court."
Sunday night in Rio was undoubtedly one of his greatest times.
(Reporting by Ossian Shine; Editing by Andrew Hay)