Andy Murray, metal hip and all, melted down the opposition, frayed the emotions and showed his never-say-die spirit to win his first singles match at Wimbledon in four years.
I did well to win the fourth set in the end because that was mentally not easy going to the locker room after losing that third. Andy Murray
Expectation and uncertainty rivalled each other as to the outcome while 6,500 around Centre Court willed the two-time champion on to a 6-4 6-3 5-7 6-4 roller-coaster three-and-a-bit-hour victory over Georgian 24th seed Nikolos Basilashvili.
The former world No.1, a wild card and now ranked 119, has had a stop-start comeback from hip problems, including surgery and told the crowd: “It’s been extremely tough. Even these last few months. It has been extremely frustrating not being able to get on the court.
“I’ve had such little momentum over these last few years. I’ve kept trying, doing all the right things to be back in this position. I feel very lucky I get to do it again.
“I keep getting asked is this going to be my last Wimbledon. I don’t know why I keep getting asked. No, I’m going to keep playing.
“I want to play, I’m enjoying it. I can still play at the highest level. He’s ranked 28 in the world and I beat him. So I’ll keep going.
“I did well to win the fourth set in the end because that was mentally not easy going to the locker room after losing that third.”
Murray lost the third set after being 5-0 up when referee Gerry Armstrong called for the roof to be put on in the poor light.
But he saw the funny side when asked what he did as he regrouped in the locker room.
He joked: “I went and had a shower. I went to the toilet. It was just a number one.
“It was just really disappointing I’d lost the third. I had to remember what I was doing to get into the winning position. I think I served better in the fourth and managed to turn it back around.”
Centre Court was half full in line with a government scheme to reintroduce crowds following the staging of events in empty stadia due to the coronavirus.
They gathered to urge on the Scot.
Among his supporters were Professor Sarah Gilbert, who was given a rousing reception for her part in helping produce a vaccine for Covid-19. As were NHS staff. All Royal Box guests involved in an All England Club ‘thank you’ for what they had done through the pandemic.
But how would Murray’s metal hip hold up? Even the player himself didn’t know, let alone the supporters willing him to bring back a taste of the glory days when he won the US Open, the Olympics (twice), Davis Cup, the ATP world finals as well as climbing to the top of the ranking and claiming Wimbledon crowns in 2013 and 2016.
Could the Brit, the world No.1 when he lost his 2017 quarter-final against Sam Querrey practically on one leg with the hip trouble flaring up, maintain his record of never losing a first-round match at the All England Club.
The jury remained out after one win and one loss at Queen’s recently.
But surely the experience of returning to Centre Court at Wimbledon would galvanise the player who has rewritten British tennis history, while ending the 77-year wait for a home champion in the All England singles?
That was the hope.
And for the opening two sets, it all looked good.
Basilashvili had a reputation for belting the ball, for lacking finesse. Having a one-dimensional style which would have played into Murray’s hands at his peak, with the ability the Brit displayed at the top to mix it up and putting opponents off balance.
And his cat and mouse tactics paid dividends as he forced the world 28 into the net and into mistakes.
With willpower, crowd support and a body that was holding up, the home favourite broke his opponent once in the first and once in the second to hint at a recreation of the Murraymania Years.
And when he led 5-0 in the third set you believed in the potential of the hype.
But the wheels came off as Murray lost three service games in a row and two match points as Basilashvili reduced the arrears.
But after the break to slide the roof into place, Murray got an early break in the fourth before breaking the Georgian to seal victory.
How much it took out of Murray is for another day, no doubt a straight forward three-set win would have been preferable.
But on this memorable evening, Murray revealed he has maintained his great asset; a refusal to lie down whatever the circumstances.