Tom HamiltonSenior writer6 minute reading
LONDON – Andy Murray felt a little on edge ahead of Wimbledon.
“When I go out on Center Court to play, I’m obviously very nervous, but incredibly excited to have the chance to perform here again on one of, if not the most special court in our sport,” he said before his first match.
Nerves are a good thing in Murray’s mind – they show he is ready and he feels optimistic about another run at the venue where the nostalgia he has created is inevitable.
That’s what happens when you’re the man who in 2013 ended a 77-year wait for a British men’s singles champion at Wimbledon, handing Novak Djokovic his final defeat on Center Court. Now the 10th anniversary of that triumph, the memories, streams of highlights and posted images of Murray smiling in utter disbelief at his victory over Djokovic were all over everything to do with this year’s tournament.
But a decade later, the real thing is still there on Center Court, playing with all the eagerness and anticipation of the young star we saw break through. The outlook remains the same, the heart-on-sleeve mentality he carries and the complete lack of a filter with his emotions is unchanged. Watching him is a captivating experience and audiences love him for it.
The 36-year-old Murray we’ve seen here this week has been indispensable. He changed his service action ahead of this year’s grass season. He messed around in practice and simplified the start of the whole process: less sway, just a touch more efficiency and order. It was a slight improvement as he started the whole process of targeting Wimbledon for the third time.
He came into this tournament in decent form – having won at Surbiton and Nottingham – but decidedly unseeded. The crowd saw him navigate his way against Ryan Peniston in the first round – his first all-British encounter since meeting Liam Broady in the first round in 2016.
Murray said he was feeling the best he had since before his hip surgeries in 2018 and 2019, which had pulled him back from the door of retirement. There were signs everywhere of a potential Murray run along with momentum and hope.
But there was world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas in his way. Thursday night saw Murray embody Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go not mild into that good night.” He made Center Court believe in him again when he pacified Tsitsipas’s forehand, attacked the net and had a 2-1 advantage before the 7pm curfew. 23 ended the game for the night.
In the penultimate point of the night, Murray let out a scream of pain and some feared that an injury to his left hip/groin area would affect his ability to play on Friday. But Murray is used to overnight recovery, and there he was at lunchtime on Friday, out on the anonymity of the practice courts he has attended for 19 years, regaining feeling in his legs and hands.
While Thursday’s match was played under cover, it was opened on Friday mid-afternoon. The arena was awash with lights as Murray aimed for what would have been his 200th Grand Slam win, and his best result against a player ranked in the top five since Roland Garros 2016.
But Tsitsipas took the fourth set and again pushed Murray to a fifth set. It’s inevitable watching Murray these days that a fight will go the distance. He said before the tournament that he needs to minimize how often this happens after going through two grueling five-setters at the Australian Open before losing in the third round. But he was able to keep it below five in just the first round.
In the end, the man 12 years his junior got the points at the most important moments, leaving Murray stroking his racket in frustration and wearing the anxious look of a man who knows an opportunity is slipping through his hands. At one point, his cap bore the brunt of his frustration. He crushed it to the size of a tennis ball before placing it back on his head.
It begs the question: He’s already proven himself to the world and become a national icon in the process – why continue to expose himself to it all? But it’s simple, really. It is because of love. And that love for the sport means that, for now, there is enough motivation to justify to himself the amount of time he spends away from his family, the pain and the inevitable highs and lows on his way.
The strength of the feeling he has for the sport was evident throughout the match, which took 4 hours and 40 minutes to complete, but 23 hours from start to finish. After the match, as he articulated his disappointment as best he could because of the overwhelming sense of heartbreak at his early defeat – he was reminded of one particular point. It came in the ninth game of the fourth set. Murray was already two sets to one ahead at this point and Tsitsipas was struggling to regain his footing in the clash.
Murray was 30-15 up on Tsitsipas’ serve. He hit a backhand across the board at the most impossible angle. It was called — Tsitsipas managed to return it, but the original call stood. Murray looked up at his box. He decided not to go through with it. Seconds later, the ball was shown to have kissed the line. It became 30-30, instead of possibly 15-40 and two break points. Murray only learned it was in when he told the media conference after the match.
“The 15-30 points my return was in?” he replied when asked how frustrated he was about getting the wrong call. “Yes,” was the reply. “Oh …” his fingers pinched the bridge of his nose, Murray publicly kicking himself for missing an opportunity to potentially force Tsitsipas into a break point and perhaps give himself a chance to serve out. “Obviously it’s frustrating,” he said. It hurt. An opportunity lost.
Just a few miles away from the Wimbledon courts on Friday night, Billy Joel was scheduled to play to a sold-out Hyde Park crowd. Bruce Springsteen played Thursday. But Murray was the second box office attraction in the city across the 24-hour period. And like them, Murray is not yet ready to go on a farewell tour. But after defeats like Friday’s, it’s just harder to summon that will to go again. “Obviously motivation is a big thing,” Murray said after the match. “Continuing to have early losses in tournaments like this doesn’t necessarily help it. Yeah, it’s similar, I think, to last year. I thought about things for a long time, talked to my family, decided to keep going.
“I’m not going to stop right now. But yeah, this one will take some time to get over. Hopefully I’ll find the motivation again to keep training, keep pushing, keep trying and keep getting better .”
And then it will be back to the courts and the ice baths, tweaking his playing style here and there and trying to make life easier on his body. It’s all with the goal of allowing yourself to have a fortnight more in the sun. That will and fight is why this place adores him. And that’s why he’ll have the space on the end of his racquet again next year if he tries to run one more race on the patch of grass he calls home.