On Monday, as the All England Club welcomed back fans after the pandemic forced Wimbledon’s cancellation in 2020, it also welcomed back Murray — at 34, an athlete who had suffered four painful years battling a hip injury but refused to retire, convinced he could still play the game he loved if only his body would cooperate.
Competing as a wild card because his current ranking of 118th wouldn’t guarantee a spot otherwise, Murray returned to Centre Court as a knight (“Sir Andy,” since Prince Charles bestowed the honor in 2019 ceremonies at Buckingham Palace) who was playing on a metal hip.
And over 3 hours 32 minutes, he provided a tournament’s worth of drama in vanquishing No. 24 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili, a shot-blasting Georgian who alternately slept-walk and bulldozed through the four-set ordeal.
The 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 upset was on Murray’s racket, positively gift-wrapped, after he took a 5-0 lead in the third set, one game from victory.
But after fending off two match points, Basilashvili rose from his seemingly disinterested stupor and won the next seven games to force a fourth set, breaking Murray’s serve four times in a row.
At that point, it was 8:40 p.m., with raindrops returning and dusk not far off. The chair umpire announced that Centre Court’s roof would then be closed, signaling a 15-minute break for players. That left the BBC’s stupefied commentators grasping for words to describe the turn of events.
“What in God’s name did we just see here?” three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe asked co-host Andrew Castle. “Could someone explain to me what happened?”
Murray had not played at Wimbledon since 2017 and competed only sparingly this season, as his body permitted.
Given the energy exerted, compounded by the wild swing of fortune, the pause after the third set could have worked against Murray. With his physical trainer not allowed to intervene during the break, Murray took a quick shower and reminded himself what had worked before things fell apart.
“I was a little bit nervous,” Murray said afterward when asked how the third set slipped away. “Didn’t serve particularly well at those moments. I was having to play longer rallies. I then started making bad decisions, which I think is a sign of lack of match play.”
Fatigue was a factor, he conceded. Then came doubts.
But he returned to the court and broke Basilashvili in the fourth set’s opening game.
By then, “Come on, Andy!” had become a perpetual refrain, and the crowd’s pleas echoed even louder with the roof closed.
Murray won it on his fourth match point, clenched a fist and stepped to the net to clasp hands with his opponent.
Basilashvili attributed his poor play through the early going to the pressure of playing on Centre Court for the first time, after six years of competing at Wimbledon. He found the grass slippery and struggled to hit such low-bouncing balls. And then, he said, there was Murray.
“It’s unbelievable effort, I think, for him after surgery, after so many comebacks, to come back and fight,” Basilashvili said. “We know that how big fighter he is on court.”