Two-time former champion Andy Murray made a dramatic return to singles action at the All England Club on Monday, overcoming a late wobble as he toppled 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 to reach the second round at Wimbledon.
Murray led 5-0 in the third set and was on the verge of closing out a straightforward victory. But after a stunning swing that sent the match into a fourth set, Murray battled to victory in three hours and 32 minutes.
“I definitely should have finished it up a lot sooner than what I did,” Murray said. “[But] I don’t think there are that many players that would have won that fourth set.”
The Scot was making his first Wimbledon singles appearance since 2017, when he reached the quarter-finals before falling to Sam Querrey in five sets. He missed the 2018 event due to ongoing recovery from hip surgery, and competed only in men’s doubles (w/Herbert) and mixed doubles (w/S. Williams) here in 2019.
Playing in just his fourth tour-level event of the year, Murray fired 17 aces against Basilashvili as he improved his perfect record in Wimbledon first rounds to 13-0. He is now 3-3 on the season.
Murray: ‘If My Body Holds Up, I Can Do Well’
Murray, currently No. 118 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, had his work cut out for him as he faced the in-form Basilashvili, who has lifted two ATP Tour trophies this season, on Centre Court.
The wild card did not face a break point, but was unable to make any inroads in the Georgian’s service games across the first nine games of the first set. Murray chipped away at Basilashvili’s aggressive game by adding variety to his groundstrokes, breaking up his opponent’s rhythm and never letting him get comfortable.
As a result, Murray earned 39 unforced errors off the Georgian’s racquet in the match, and 13 in the first set. A Basilashvili drop shot attempt into the net took Murray to his first break point at 5-4, which he converted to take the opening set.
With the first set under his belt, Murray settled into the match and redirected Basilashvili’s pace as he fired nine winners to take the second. He was nearly untouchable in the early stretches of the third set, with three breaks of serve – including back-to-back breaks to love – putting him 5-0 ahead and closing in on the victory.
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But Basilashvili refused to wilt away, and the 24th seed took advantage of a spate of unforced errors from Murray to work his way back into the set. He got two of the breaks back as he directed traffic to the misfiring Murray backhand, and saved two match points to close the gap to 5-4.
Murray’s first serve percentage took a dive in the second half of the third set (from 84 per cent in the first set to 56 per cent) as Basilashvili kept the pressure on. The Georgian broke twice more, and Murray struck his 13th unforced error of the set to give Basilashvili a lifeline in the match.
“I think I played well up until probably 5-3 in the third set. 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,” Murray said. “But [those are] the sorts of things that can happen when you haven’t played any matches. Things can get away from you a little bit quick.”
After a brief pause in play to close the roof over Centre Court, Murray came back swinging in the fourth set as he edged his way in front after three straight breaks and held serve for the first time in six service games to lead 3-1. That would prove to be decisive as, nearly one hour and a half after his first match points, Murray once again arrived at match point. This time, he claimed the victory to see off Basilashvili and book a place in the second round.
“It’s an unbelievable effort I think for him after surgery, after so many comebacks to come back and fight. He fights unbelievably, and I was expecting that. We all know how big [of a] fighter he is on court,” Basilashvili said. “Well done to him.”
Murray will next face either German qualifier Oscar Otte or French qualifier Arthur Rinderknech. Otte and Rinderknech were deadlocked after three hours and 39 minutes in the fifth set at 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 7-6(5), 9-9 when their match was suspended due to darkness. Rinderknech claimed the first set while Otte took the next two, before the Frenchman sent them into a fifth.
Did You Know?
Murray is contesting his 51st Grand Slam event here, extending his record for most Grand Slam appearances by a British man in the Open Era. He claimed sole ownership of the record, ahead of Tim Henman, by contesting his 50th Grand Slam event at Roland Garros last year.