In the four years since Andy Murray last won a singles match at Wimbledon, the two-times champion has been to sporting hell and back, battered by constant doubt and injury setbacks in a career that seemed to have reached its end so many times. But at no point during his toils did he ever lose his will to succeed and he continues to do all he can in service of that goal.
Back in the Wimbledon singles draw once more, Murray took an invaluable step forward as he defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili, the 24th seed, 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 to reach the second round.
There are, however, large sections of his evening that he will hope to forget for as long as his career endures after suffering an extraordinary collapse in a match that seemed to be headed for a routine straight-sets victory. After leading 6-4, 6-3, 5-0 and breezing through most of the third set with ease, Murray squandered seven consecutive games and failed to serve out the match three times in a row.
In a sense, his third win in a slam match in four years served as a reminder of how monumental every single match is for the 34-year-old as he tries to rediscover a level that would allow him to survive on the tour again. He had won 678 career matches before this one and rarely ever had problems closing out players beneath him in the pecking order. Likewise, it underlined the value of matchplay, of which he has so little after so many years of being unable to consistently compete.
“That’s never happened to me before in my career [after] being three breaks of serve up and two sets to love up,” he said.
“Never had that happen before but they’re the sort of things that can happen when you haven’t played a lot of matches. And then at the end of the third set, I’m thinking a bit of fatigue and then questioning, ‘If I lose this set will I be OK to finish in four or five sets?’ I don’t think there’s many players who would have won that fourth set.”
Until he established his third-set lead, Murray had produced one of his best serving performances in the two years he has competed with a metal hip under pressure from one of the biggest hitters in the game. He served 13 aces in the opening two sets and during the many times Murray found himself under pressure, he invariably produced a sufficiently strong serve to maintain his lead.
With two sets behind him and the pressure lessened, Murray soared through the third set.
He drew errors from a sputtering Basilashvili with his defence, he produced numerous slick drop shots and he crushed forehands as he established a 5-0 lead. But as Murray neared the finish line, he became arrested by nerves, and the complexion slowly changed.
A series of timid unforced errors from Murray brought a listless Basilashvili back into the match. Gifted a glimmer of hope, the 29-year-old tightened up his game and battled. After twice failing to serve out the match, Murray led 15-40 on Basilashvili’s serve at 5-3. The Georgian saved the first match point by pounding a forehand down the line and then the second with a winning serve.
By the time the score read 5-6, Murray had momentarily lost his head. After numerous poor drop shots, he was forced into a fourth set. With light slowly beginning to fade, both players were ushered off the court as the roof rolled on. “I did well to win the fourth set,” said Murray.
“That was not mentally easy going back to the locker room. I had a shower, I went to the toilet – just a number one – and then it was really disappointing that I lost the third. I cut out some of the drop shots and served better in the fourth set and turned it round.”
When he returned, he picked up where he left off in the second set by immediately breaking serve. Murray served well enough, he eked out unforced errors with skidding slices and at 4-3, he produced a beautiful winning backhand drop shot on break point before holding serve.
This time, he broke Basilashvili’s serve at the close to put the result beyond doubt.
“I keep being asked if this is my last Wimbledon or last match,” said Murray in his on-court interview. “No. I want to play. I am enjoying it and I still can play at the highest level. He is ranked 28 in the world and I have hardly played any matches and I beat him. I will keep going.”
Murray will face either Oscar Otte or Arthur Rinderknech in the second round, both qualifiers, whose match was suspended at 9-9 in the fifth set.