After a four-year wait, Andy Murray roared to victory on his return to Centre Court, beating 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili to earn a first Wimbledon singles win since 2017.
It’s been a long time coming after years fighting to return to the sport after a career-threating hip injury and this match was far from pretty. But Murray still has the guile, craft and dogged determination to cause anyone problems on the grass and he eventually frustrated his Georgian opponent into submission.
There were all the ingredients of a classic Murray match in this 6-4 6-3 5-7 6-3 win in three-and-a-half hours. A simmering tension throughout, with a lively Centre Court crowd begging an animated and self-critical warrior to somehow find a way. Find a way, he eventually did.
Murray is no stranger to the scenic route but even by his standards this was the long way around. After looking in total control at two sets up with a 5-0 lead in the third, Murray surrendered a three-break lead and allowed the heavy-hitting world No. 28 back into the match.
The fourth set began, under the roof, at 9pm as all the heavily rain delayed outside court matches were forced to end prematurely due to bad light. Murray felt at risk of one of the most disastrous defeats of his career.
But he used the 14-minute break off court, as the roof shut, to his advantage and returned to seal the victory that had felt so certain earlier in the evening. Having waited four years to win a singles match year here, how much of a difference does a few hours really make?
Few will claim this is a man who can go on to win the title, despite his pedigree. Given the torment of the past four years, every win at this stage in his career feels like a bonus and following it up in the next round will be a test physically, regardless of who is on the other side of the net.
Without context, this would feel like a match he should win. Basilashvili, who boasts extreme power but lacks great court awareness and intelligence, is a player who, in his heyday, Murray would expect to expose.
But this fallen champion, the man with the metal hip who retired and unretired since his last Centre Court appearance and this, continues to scrap for his life at the twilight of his career. And the Wimbledon crowd bloody loved it.
Earlier, Murray arrived to a standing ovation in his theatre of dreams.
Centre Court is an arena in which he’s won two of his three Grand Slam titles, as well as Olympic gold, but while it’s a familar walk from the locker room to the grass, this one no doubt felt special.
The Scot has spoken of how he wants to savour every remaining moment of his career, in the knowledge it could end at any moment, and in four years away he feared he would never walk out here again as a singles player.
In the four years between his last match – a hobbling five-sets quarter-finals defeat to the USA’s Sam Querrey – he has endured countless stop-start returns and undergone career-saving hip surgery. Surely he would say it was all worth it for today.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the performance, particularly in the first two-and-a-half sets, was the quality of the Murray serve.
He set the tone with an 114mph ace in the first point of the match, with two more following in an opening service game more befitting of a servebot like John Isner.
Off the ground, things weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders. A few sliced backhands were dumped into the net and he was often left watching as Basilashvili winners off both wings whizzed past him.
Frustrated by his movement and sloppy groundstrokes, Murray checked the bottom of his shoe at the end of the sixth game as if he’d trodden in some gum hidden in the Centre Court grass.
If it wasn’t vintage Murray in some regards, it was in others. After coming out on top in a lengthy exchange he turned and roared ‘Come On’ into the stands.
Moments later, he produced one of his more humorous traits, the wildly inaccurate Hawk Eye challenge, on a first serve that flew comfortably long.
There had been few opportunities to break in a nervy opener but it was Murray who pinched it. He pounced onto a return as he did so often in his prime and Basilashvili faltered on his backhand wing, leaving Murray screaming into the adoring Centre crowd.
Basilashvili was guilty of wasting opportunities early in the second. In the fifth game he netted a drop-shot on break point, with his opponent stranded at the back of the court. Two games later, he was unable to convert again as a beautifully struck Murray backhand forced an error on the forehand side.
A game on, Murray made him pay. A first break point was saved with an ace but Murray produced some trademark defence to tease an error out of frustration from the 24th seed, who lashed a forehand into the net.
Murray, fired up, had to compose himself and a sublime backhand drop-shot finished the job, with Bashilashvili only able to claw it into the net as he fell two sets behind.
Basilashvili, clearly frustrated and deflated, threw in a stinker of a service game to start the third set, with Murray gleefully breaking to love.
The Basilashvili resistance appeared broken and he looked on course for a bagel. Murray, however, faltered at the last and was broken three times at the finish line.
Remarkably, Murray failed to cling on to serve for a fourth game in a row and Basilashvili forced a fourth set.
He returned from a 14-minute break as the roof covered Centre Court rejuvenated, breaking Basilashvili in his first two service games and he looked after his own serve to book his spot in round two.
A qualifier will await him in the next round, with France’s Arthur Rinderknech and Germany’s Oscar Otte locked at 9-9 in the deciding set when bad light suspended play.
For more stories like this, check our sport page
Follow Metro Sport across our social channels, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
Source: Read Full Article