Another, late, late show on Wednesday night ended with the most delicious backhand lob and after three hours and 51 minutes of can’t-avert-your-eyes, can’t-watch-either tennis, the courageous Scot had won a place in Wimbledon’s third round.
Reflecting on victory over German qualifier Oscar Otte after his ice bath – and still shivering – Murray pondered the emotional effects of such epics on the Centre Court crowd and those watching on prime-time TV from behind sofas.
“The one time I realised [what that might be like] was when I looked back at the highlights of the Wimbledon final in 2013 [when Murray beat Novak Djokovic for his first title]. Seeing my mum in the crowd near the end when I had match points and then he came back into it … I found that difficult to watch, actually. I could see how hard it was for my mum and my wife. I realised then what it must be like for them. But, you know, they should be used to it by now!”
‘Pathetic’ pay offer
“Hero” is a term tossed around in sport but Murray took the opportunity of his post-match interview to thank the real heroes of the hour – NHS workers – and to criticise Boris Johnson’s government for offering them such a niggardly pay rise.
Hospital staff had been on Centre Court on Wimbledon’s opening day when Murray won his first match. Asked how he felt seeing them – and Oxford vaccine developers – in the stands, he said: “I think the whole country kind of realised how important they are, and [how] they maybe hadn’t got the recognition they deserved until now. It’s fantastic they’re able to come along and watch some of the tennis. Hopefully they can enjoy it and hopefully the politicians can realise that they deserve more than what they’re getting paid just now. I think they got something like a one per cent pay rise – it was pathetic. They obviously deserve a lot more than that. They’ve done an amazing job getting us through the pandemic.”
Murray has now been on court for seven hours and he’s only played two matches. That would be challenging for any 34-year-old but for one with a metal hip who’s been denied so much elite action these past four years – well, that seems superhuman.
He admitted the toll injuries had taken on his body made gruelling matches like Wednesday night “a lot harder than when I was in my mid-20s”. But to win again, to hear the roar of a crowd going mental again, they were worth it.
“That’s one of the reasons why I’m still playing,” he said. “Like, why would I want to give that up? The atmosphere was great the whole match but the last hour and a half was just brilliant.” The memory of such nights kept Murray going through the agonies of rehab and all the breakdowns. “Creating more memories, that’s why I’m still here.”
Picking out the fans
The matches come thick and fast and the opponents only get tougher for wild-card Murray. Otte was ranked 151 in the world but the man on the other side of the net today will be the championships’ tenth seed, Canada’s Denis Shapovalov.
Dunblane’s finest, though, has the crazily cheering stands on his side and he doesn’t underestimate their importance to his comeback campaign – especially those supporters he singled out on Wednesday for special attention.
“In that last hour and a half when we came back out after the court had been covered I needed to have more energy. I tried to engage more with the crowd. They created a great atmosphere and we were feeding off each other a lot. I picked a few people and was basically staring at them pretty much after every point.
“I’ve done this a few times in my career and it’s helped. There were guys in Scotland tops and a lady on the other side of the court. When I went to get my towel they were just really loud and always standing up. Then there was the guy near the radio booths. He was standing up all the time, too, and getting really pumped up. He caught my eye. So every time I won points, but also when I lost points, I’d be looking at him. For me it was great to use the crowd. I couldn’t have won without their help. I hope the fans don’t think it’s a bit weird when I’m sort of staring and screaming at them for, like, a whole hour and a half but they seemed to enjoy it as well.”
And what about England?
Tennis must compete with football for back page – and front page – attention whenever there’s a big summer tournament like the Euros but Murray with these thrill-rides is doing his bit for his chosen sport.
He’s been watching the football when he can, though, and was at Wembley for the England-Scotland clash. “I was there with one Scottish friend and two English mates. That was brilliant, great fun.” Scotland can no longer win the Euros but England might – how would he feel about that?
Back in the day, cheekily at the wind-up, he pledged his support for “ABE – Anyone But England”. Now, though, he’s English-based with an English wife and half-English kids.
“I think they’ve got a pretty decent chance,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for England to win a major competition for the first time in a while. Hopefully they can do it.”
He didn’t seem like he was leaving the answer hanging in the air. Not like that brilliant lob, anyway.