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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, June 28, 2021

 
Andy Murray

Playing his first Wimbledon match in four years, Andy Murray fended off 24th-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 to reach the Wimbledon second round.

Photo credit: Getty

Centre Court fans embraced Andy Murray with an ovation in his Wimbledon return.

Playing his first Wimbledon singles match in four years, Murray transformed happy homecoming into a heart-racing wild ride.

More: Konta Out of Wimbledon After Close Contact Tests Positive for Coronavirus

In a topsy-turvy match, Murray won eight straight games to seize a two-set 5-0 third-set lead, spiraled through a seven-game losing streak as he fixated on drop shots, endured a 20-minute break as officials covered the court then closed the curtain on Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 to reach the Wimbledon second round.

It was crazy, it was complicated, it was compelling.

In other words, it was like many Murray matches we've seen over the years at The Championships: exciting and excruciating at times for his devoted supporters.




"I think I played well up to probably 5-3 in the third set," Murray said. "I mean, that's never happened to me before in my career, being three breaks, a serve up and two sets to love up. Never had that happen before.

But, you know, they're the sort of things that can happen, like when you haven't played any matches and things can get away from you a little bit quick. Then like at the end of the third set, I was starting to feel a little bit of fatigue and then I'm questioning, well, if I end up losing this set, you know, will I be okay to, like, to win in four sets or five sets?

"I definitely should have finished it up a lot sooner than what I did. I don't think there is that many players that would have won that fourth set."

Four years after his last singles appearance, Murray has withstood multiple hip surgeries, a bout with Coronavirus and the sometimes painful process of rehabbing after his last hip resurfacing surgery yet shared a smile of satisfaction looking like there's nowhere he's rather be than standing on Centre Court after reaching round two for the 13th time at his home Slam.

Despite squandering two match points at 5-3 in the third set, Murray kept calm and continued fighting to take down the No. 24 seed in three hours, 32 minutes.

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This was a much different Murray than the man who hobbled off Centre Court in 2017 after  Sam Querrey clubbed 27 aces bursting through 12 of the final 14 games dethroning defending champion Murray, 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1, in charging into the 2017 Wimbledon semifinals.

At the same time Basilashvili, who conceded he felt the nerves in his Centre Court debut, said the former No. 1 competed with his familiar ferocity.

"I mean, big, it's unbelievable effort I think for him after surgery, after so many comebacks to come back and fight," Basilashvili said. "He fights unbelievably, and I was expecting that. We all know that how big fighter he is on court. I think it was well done to him."

The 34-year-old Murray celebrated his Centre Court return with a bang blasting three aces and a service winner in the opening game of the match.

Ten games into the match, Basilashvili tried to play a drop shot reply off a fine Murray dropper but caught the top of the tape instead. Murray rifled a two-handed return crosscourt drawing the error to snatch a one-set lead with a shout after 42 minutes.

Serving at 3-all in the second set, Murray confronted a break point with a second serve off the service line.

Touch is not Basilashvili's forte and he tapped a drop shot into net on break point. Murray dodged the dilemma holding for 4-3.

Facing a break point in the next game, Basilashvili banged his third ace down the middle to save it. Murray turned up the defensive intensity with some stirring digs and Basilashvili imploded netting successive errors as the two-time champion broke for 5-3.

The two-time Wimbledon winner tormented Basilashvili with touch. On set point, Murray carved out a sweet backhand drop shot building a two-set lead in 90 minutes on the strength of late breaks in both sets.

A befuddled Basilashvili couldn't cope effectively when Murray dragged him to the front court with an assortment of drop shots, slices and spins.

The bearded Basilashvili seemed to tap out of the match as Murray streaked through eight straight games building a 5-0 third-set lead with the finish line looking like a formality.




The 24th-seeded Basilashvili wasn't done and soon found another gear. The baseliner broke Murray twice in a row then fought off a couple of match points—including bombing a big serve down the middle to erase the second match point—holding for his fourth straight game. Murray stepped up to serve for the match for the third time, but felt the spiking jitters putting a backhand into net to face a break point.

Spending much of the opening two sets confounded in the frontcourt, Basilashvili slid into a short ball and reflexed a backhand volley—his best volley of the match—breaking for 5-all and hurling a huge uppercut to celebrate.

Trying to shorten points, Murray botched a drop shot to face set point but slid a serve down the T to save it.

The wild card put a forehand into net to face a second set point. Murray drew the short return he wanted but instead of hammering his forehand, he got too cute and again indulged his drop shot fetish only to ignite a net exchange he lost.

Remarkably, Basilashvili, whose hopes seemed dead and buried amid an eight-game free-fall down 0-5, won his seventh straight game to force a fourth set as Murray found himself fighting a battle on multiple fronts trying to tame his nerves, a hard-hitting opponent and fatigue.

"As it started to get closer to the end of that set and I'm starting to feel a little bit of fatigue and then there's doubt that creeps in because for those reasons, like, I have not been exposed to three, four hours of tennis for a very long time," Murray said. "I have had very little practice at that level and preparation at that level. So, yeah, like, you have those doubts and stuff. Not at the beginning -- not when I was 5-Love up I had no doubts. It was when it started to get to 5-3, 5-4, started to think about it a bit."

Fading light prompted officials to close the roof over Centre Court giving Murray time to vent after blowing that 5-0 lead and two match points.

The 20-minute break seemed to settle Murray providing time to reset.

Tennis Express

The two-time Olympic gold-medal champion broke at love on an errant forehand to start the fourth set only to see Basilashvili break right back.  Murray scored his second straight love break to go up 2-1.

In the latter stages of this match, no break seemed safe. In the eighth game, Murray erased a break point with a drop shot, swatted an ace and hit his way out of trouble holding for 5-3.

Ninety-minutes after saving his last match point at 3-5 in the third set, Basilashvili denied a third match point only to but a short backhand into net to face a fourth match point. This time Murray closed it when his opponent netted a backhand erupting in a primal scream.

After the adrenaline subsides, how will Murray recover for round two? He hopes to be at full strength.

"So right now I feel fine. My legs are a bit heavy, a little bit tired," Murray said. "Yeah, so, can't remember what I was saying. What was I talking about? Oh, how my body is feeling. Just now I feel a bit like my legs feel tired and sort of heavy. But pain-wise I feel all right just now. Yeah. Like, I will be really hoping I wake up tomorrow morning feeling all right."


 

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