August 15, 2022

Wimbledon: Andy Murray survives early scare by coming back from a set down to beat James Duckworth

The evening sun came out as Andy Murray first materialised and it was the richest kind of twilight.

He is no longer the prime time, tea-time product on BBC and the theatre of his greatest triumphs was initially only two-thirds full. Yet the 35-year-old still arrived to a greater ovation than the famous British teenager barely half his age who had preceded him.

He and his metal hip were up against an Australian who had just had surgery to the same joint and that seemed like a kind of parity, though it wasn’t.

Andy Murray defeated James Duckworth 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the first round at Wimbledon

Murray was up against the unseeded Australian, who claimed the first set on Centre Court

Murray was up against the unseeded Australian, who claimed the first set on Centre Court

Murray was up against the unseeded Australian, who claimed the first set on Centre Court

Murray walked like a metal man, slightly stooped, the back no longer ramrod straight. James Duckworth walked with muscular swagger and possessed a forehand like an Exocet missile.

These are still the days of Murray’s life, though. Here and now was why he went through the process of a surgeon literally hammering at his hip, three years ago, and though an abdomen strain has turned the last few weeks into a running medical bulletin, there was no quarter spared, nothing half delivered.

His grunts of exertion were comical at times. Those of a higher pitch approached the realm of a wail. ‘Give me a break,’ Murray seemed to be saying. Centre Court loved this very human kind of effort.

His grunts of exertion were comical at times but loved by those in the crowd at Centre Court

His grunts of exertion were comical at times but loved by those in the crowd at Centre Court

His grunts of exertion were comical at times but loved by those in the crowd at Centre Court

Duckworth had recently undergone surgery to his hip - the same joint as the 35-year-old

Duckworth had recently undergone surgery to his hip - the same joint as the 35-year-old

Duckworth had recently undergone surgery to his hip – the same joint as the 35-year-old

His chase from back to front of court to collect a drop-shot in the second game electrified the place. There were three of these in all across the night.

His break back to 2-2 in the first set brought on the theatre’s old collective urging to ‘Let’s go’. But it was in the moment that jeopardy was beginning to loom for Murray, a set down and 2-2, that a rally of beautiful drama on break-point secured him a game which quickly brought the second set.

The cross-court slice deep to the baseline won Murray that vital point and it was not the only time. His body might not always have been quite so willing, but the touch and the anticipation were very much there. 

He changed up the pace to keep his opponent off balance. The drop shot also served him exceptionally well all night. One of them had just secured a break in the third game of the third set when Murray spotted Duckworth deep behind the baseline to receive and served underarm. A lob and smash followed to win that point.

There was bemusement. ‘Again!’ someone shouted.

Murray's chase from back to front of court to collect a drop-shot also electrified the place

Murray's chase from back to front of court to collect a drop-shot also electrified the place

Murray’s chase from back to front of court to collect a drop-shot also electrified the place

The Brit changed up the pace to keep his opponent off-balance throughout Monday's match

The Brit changed up the pace to keep his opponent off-balance throughout Monday's match

The Brit changed up the pace to keep his opponent off-balance throughout Monday’s match

It had been the day when this court gave us the first profile of a new British star’s parent.

Emma Raducanu’s mother Renee featured prominently in her daughter’s broadcast. To the last, the Murray retinue followed him. Judy Murray was as steadfast and inscrutable as ever.

Duckworth, the world No 74, a stronger challenge than anticipated, was sending down 133mph serves and Murray’s old angled returns, using the pace of the ball, were often evident.

But it was the ground stroke touch — two backhand baseline half-volleys — which bought the break for 4-1 in the second set.

Emma Raducanu’s mother Renee featured prominently in her daughter’s broadcast

Emma Raducanu’s mother Renee featured prominently in her daughter’s broadcast

Emma Raducanu’s mother Renee featured prominently in her daughter’s broadcast

Meanwhile, Judy Murray was as steadfast and inscrutable as ever at Centre Court

Meanwhile, Judy Murray was as steadfast and inscrutable as ever at Centre Court

Meanwhile, Judy Murray was as steadfast and inscrutable as ever at Centre Court

Even at 5-1, the 30-year-old Duckworth offered no easy points. Murray shook his head when another vanished past him in the gathering gloom. But he served out for the third set.

Duckworth wanted the roof closed after falling two breaks down in that set and asked to see the match supervisor about the fading natural light. He seemed disgruntled when he was not immediately granted his wish. But the 10-minute break for the roof was not well timed for Murray.

The Australian steadied things when they returned. Then two double faults gave Murray the break and he served out for a shot at the second round.

Duckworth had wanted the roof closed after falling two breaks down in the third set

Duckworth had wanted the roof closed after falling two breaks down in the third set

Duckworth had wanted the roof closed after falling two breaks down in the third set

Murray will face American John Isner in the second round after his win over Enzo Couacaud

Murray will face American John Isner in the second round after his win over Enzo Couacaud

Murray will face American John Isner in the second round after his win over Enzo Couacaud

There will be some challenge there, against the big-swerving American John Isner, who fired down 54 aces in a five-set win over France’s Enzo Couacaud.

But the way Murray punched the air and unleashed a scream of delight last night tells us that he is not done yet.

‘I’m getting on a bit now and I don’t know how many more opportunities I have, so I’m having to make the most of those I get,’ he said. ‘Hopefully I’ll be back here in a few days.’

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