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Running and, crucially, reaching drop shots from James Duckworth, and beating the Australian at the net with passing shots and lobs, yet still berating himself from the back of the court that it was not all perfection. It was Murray at Wimbledon in a nutshell.
It is perhaps a little premature to say after one match against an opponent with his own injury issues that he can enjoy his best run since winning the tournament for a second time in 2016. But, crucially, he appears to be playing pain-free, both in terms of the hip operated on three-and-a-half years ago but also the abdominal strain which struck in the final of the Stuttgart Open.
Of suggestions of a long run deep into the Wimbledon fortnight, Murray said after his 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win: “I don’t know about that. Certainly, I’m in a better place than I was last year when I played here. In terms of pain, [I’m] certainly in a better place than I was in 2017.
“I don’t know about having a deep run or not. I’ve got a pretty tricky match in the next round against [John] Isner. I’ll need to be on it for that one if I want to get through it.”
Andy Murray | Wimbledon 2022
Against the big servers, and Isner in particular, Murray has an enviable record. Eight times they have graced the same court and Murray has won every time, although crucially none of those meetings have been on grass or since his hip operation.
Since that time, the 6ft 10in big-serving American has reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon.
Dissecting the secret to his success against the big men, Murray said: “I don’t know exactly why my record is as it is against those guys. They’re obviously very tough players to play against, because of the nature of how the matches go. You’re not necessarily always in control of them.
“You can go four or five service return games where you’re not getting any opportunities. There’s not always lots of rhythm in the match, so it’s difficult.
“But, for whatever reason, I’ve always played well against them. The match-ups have been good for me. I played well against John in the past. I don’t think I’ve ever played him on grass before, so there will be different challenges. I’ll need to play really well and certainly return a bit better than I did tonight if I want to get through that.”
The Murray confidence should be high. He has picked up the scalps of Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas already during the grasscourt swing, two of the form players on the surface in 2022. And before his abdominal strain emerged, he pushed Novak Djokovic’s would-be successor as Wimbledon champion, Matteo Berrettini, close.
His serve, which has been an improved facet of his game this season, stuttered early on — with just 46 per cent of his first serves landing in during the opening set — while his returns lacked some of the consistency of old.
But, crucially, he has had more game time than usual on grass in the lead-up to Wimbledon, the upshot of which he said was his “game starting to feel better and better”.
In the midst of it all, he even threw in an underarm serve — potentially a first on Centre Court — during the third set, a ploy which worked after Duckworth had edged well behind the baseline to deal with the improving Murray serve.
It was Murray’s service which was particularly the issue against Berrettini in the Stuttgart Open, when his injury took hold.
Looking ahead to an inevitable return to Centre Court tomorrow, the Briton said: “It felt fine today. The last few days when I’ve been serving was fine. I went to get a scan, an ultrasound scan on it on Saturday after my practice just to see how it was progressing. It was all clear for the first time on the scans, which is really positive. I still need to take precautions and still do some rehab and protect it when I can.”