In the four years since Andy Murray last won a singles match at Wimbledon, the two-times champion has been to sports 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 another valuable step forward as he defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili, the 24th seed, 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 to reach the second round. Daar is, egter, 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 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 second 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 and rarely ever had problems closing out players with lesser achievements. But any victory is an enormous stepping stone for Murray: after so many physical difficulties, for once he was seized entirely by nerves until he admirably reset mentally.
Across the net, this marked Basilashvili’s first appearance on one of the big stadiums at a major since he was arrested for domestic violence against his former wife Neli Dorokashvili in May 2020. Dorokashvili subsequently took out a restraining order against him and the court case is continuing.
Until his collapse, Murray had produced one of his best serving performances in the two years he has competed with a metal hip. 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.
Murray moved as confidently as he has done during the grass season and as the match endured he became increasingly assured behind his forehand. Steeds, Basilashvili slowly began to find his range and the momentum hung in the balance in the second set as the Georgian forced break points in consecutive service games at 2-2 en 3-3. Elke keer, Murray served well enough to escape.
Murray timed his charge late in the second set, demonstrating the full range of his movement. By 4-3, deuce, he first elicited a backhand error from Basilashvili with a solid defensive slice backhand and then he chased down a big cross-court forehand on break point, landing an excellent deep defensive forehand of his own and then cheering as Basilashvili dumped a forehand into the net.
With two sets behind him and the pressure relieved, Murray smoothly navigated the first half of the third set with unabashed confidence. 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 lei. But as Murray became arrested by nerves, the complexion slowly changed.
A series of timid unforced errors from Murray brought a listless Basilashvili back into the match and the Georgian spent refusing to give up errors. After two failed service games, Murray then led 15-40 on Basilashvili’s serve at 5-3. Hierdie keer, 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. Die 15 minutes away from the court proved to be key as Murray was able to depart and compose himself. 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. Hierdie keer, he broke Basilashvili’s serve at the close to put the result beyond doubt.
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.