Andy Murray found himself dragged into another of those enthralling Center Court nights under the lights – and responded with enough quality and finesse to suggest that he could yet make his deepest run for years over the next fortnight.
There was a fist pump and an almighty roar after Murray finally defeated the world No 74 James Duckworth 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 shortly after 9.30pm. But while the result was widely expected, the way he did it – recovering from a scratchy first set to finish with 35 winners and just 14 unforced errors – left a searing impression.
Towards the end, in particular, there were echoes of vintage Murray: especially in the way he moved Duckworth around the court, teasing and testing, before applying the kill.
Of course stiffer tests await, starting on Wednesday against the 20th seed John Isner. But the big-serving American did little in his five-set victory against the French qualifier Enzo Couacaud to suggest he should be feared.
Given it has been six years since Murray last lifted the Wimbledon jug, most have come to accept that he is no longer the player he was. That may be true, but he looks far fitter since linking back up with his old coach Ivan Lendl this year.
Victories against Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios in Stuttgart have given him confidence. And, encouragingly, he looks to have fully recovered from a stomach strain he sustained against Matteo Berrettini that put his Wimbledon on him in doubt.
Many of the Center Court crowd arrived expected a procession. Duckworth, though, had other ideas. The Australian wafted a devilish lob at 1-1 in the first set, immediately followed it up with another, and after a Murray unforced error had the first break of the match.
Not that Murray was unduly worried. He immediately broke back. But instead of establishing his superiority he drifted and was broken at 4-4 before a forehand winner from Duckworth sealed the first set in 41 minutes.
However Murray could be comforted by the fact he had won their previous two matches, including after having been a set down at the US Open in 2018. He also knew Duckworth had run hot in that opening set, hitting 14 winners to 10 unforced errors. The question was, could it last? Slowly we got our answer: no. Murray’s serving notably improved in the second set, giving him a platform to attack. And at 3-2 on serve in the second set, he produced a defensive masterclass after earning breakpoint before his opponent finally strayed into the tramlines. Further mistakes soon followed as Murray confidently took the second set 6-3.
Suddenly Center Court was carrying echoes of some of Murray’s glory days. The Pimm’s-soaked crowd living every point. The urgent chants of “Come on Andy”. Only old stone-face himself, Lendl, sat unmoved in the players’ box.
Murray could also take encouragement from the fact his opponent had not won a single match in six attempts this season – and had even proven more prone injury than himself, having had nine surgeries in 10 years. Understandably Duckworth had also seen his rating tumble from 45th to 76th after a hip operation in January kept him out.
An opportunity for Murray to apply the squeeze at the start of the third set came and went as two breakpoints went begging. But at 1-1 an exquisite drop shot earned him another which he capitalized on when Duckworth sent a backhand low into the net.
Suddenly the party tricks were coming out – including an underarm serve at 2-1. Old hands reckoned it was the first time Murray had ever tried it at Wimbledon – and it worked as Duckworth could only scoop his return up into the air, allowing Murray to swat it away.
But Duckworth was still dangerous and Murray needed a smart volley at deuce to stay ahead at 3-1. A second break immediately followed, along with a familiar fist pump, and Murray quickly secured the third set 6-2.
That impressed even Lendl, who applauded along with the rest of Murray’s box. But with the gloom ascending on Wimbledon, Duckworth called the referee to ask whether the roof would come on and give him a much-needed breather. “I’m struggling to see,” he insisted, before moaning that when Murray asks for the lights to come on they come on.
The referee agreed and at 8.44pm there was a 10-minute delay, but it didn’t unduly affect either player. The fourth set went with serve until Murray broke in the ninth game – before sealing the match in the next.
The result means Murray maintains his record of never losing a first-round match at Wimbledon in 14 singles appearances – a tally that equals Tim Henman, John Lloyd and Greg Rusedski in the modern era, and is only one behind Jeremy Bates.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism