Wimbledon 2021: Was this Andy Murray's bravest performance ever?
It wasn’t that he’d forgotten. Simply that the head knew the secret code, the spirit was perfectly willing, but the legs possibly weren’t, not quite.
But somehow, and from somewhere - maybe a whirring memory tape of his first title triumph in 2013 - Murray the Magnificent found a way to win the most incredible match with very possibly his bravest performance. Ever.
He was up against a German inspired - and who knows, maybe “Boom Boom” himself had had a hand there. In the build-up, Oscar Otte’s countryman Boris Becker had been hopeful that this giant from Cologne could produce a performance. Even though he was a qualifier, unknown to the Centre Court.
Referring to the Euros defeat on the other side of London at Wembley, the much more conspicuous Becker said: “Maybe a German can give us a match because the football team didn’t.” Through having to battle to get this far Otte would be “match-tough” so Murray would have to be “careful”.
What a titanic duel. And what the hell was Murray doing saving his best and most stupendous shots for the very end of this three hours and 51 minutes epic? How was that even possible?
Earlier, much earlier, Otte led the pair onto Centre, which was a wow moment in itself for him and he offered a modest wave to the stands bathed in pleasant early-evening sunshine. Would there be any more?
A gangly figure, curly-haired and bearded, Otte had no difficulty reaching for Murray’s first drop shot of the contest and held serve to get on the scoreboard. Murray, seven years his opponent’s senior, responded with his first ace and a flashing backhand drive to the baseline junction, possibly number 56,782 of his illustrious career.
As in the first round Murray seemed to be feeling his way back. With all respect to his opponent, maybe the main battle was going to be with his own fitness. Could he recover sufficiently from charging around Centre 48 hours previously - something he did as a matter of routine in his pomp but not so much recently?
He seemed to get stronger as the earlier encounter progressed or had that been a trick of a light? At last year’s US Open Murray beat Yoshihtio Nishioka over five sets and went to bed feeling fine. The next morning, though, he couldn’t get out of bed. What was the story this time? Did the Rice Krispies seem unusually heavy on the spoon? We weren’t privy to such info but the truth was his shots were smoother and lower over the net than at the same stage on Monday.
The German was an athletic competitor with his lusty serve and lively feet. Standing 6ft 4ins, there was no shortage of reach either. But Murray was producing a pretty solid groove and those feet weren’t quite lively enough as the two-times champ fired straight at his laces then battered the limp return to claim the first set.
“It’s coming home!” was the shout from the crowd. Sorry, but that was completely lost on your correspondent.
Now Murray tightened his grip with a crafty mash-up of shots which flustered Otte and forced him to overhit. Murray could feel his legs all right, they were working fine. And the metal hip. Mustn’t forget that.
It was obvious, though, that the Six Million Dollar Scot was keen to reinstate a favourite shot to the repertoire. Remember those forehand drives taken on the run, the thunder of feet, the walloping hit unerringly down the line?
There were a few attempts, highly promising, but not quite finding the spot. They’ll surely return in time. And what he had - whipped crosscourts especially - seemed at that moment too much for Otte whose normally decent drop shot failed him and handed another break to Murray.
But, hang on everyone, Boom Boom’s big hope for German salvation wasn’t quite done. He broke back, then broke Murray again. You shouldn’t be surprised, you lot. It’s never straightforward with Andy. Never was.
The sun had gone, it was turning chilly. Fifteen minutes earlier there had been shouts of “Come on, Oscar”, probably out of sympathy, or maybe in the hope of a more keenly-fought affair. Remember: be careful what you wish for.
This might have been where the pressure would tell on the inexperienced man. There was a quick-draw drop shot duel, bang-bang-bang, with Murray coming out on top. Otte gestured with both hands outstretched where he hoped Murray would put it. Good comedy.
Then: a clanger. Murray missed the simplest of overheads to leave him serving to stay in the set. Suddenly shots were being slashed and he found the net again. Same place, too. Otte, back on serve, drilled a terrific forehand for three set points. The match was tied.
The first point of the third set was worrying from the Murray perspective. He had a great yawning gap at which to aim chose wrongly. Now he was having to work harder. Otte was starting to believe.
But there were no further shouts of “Come on, Oscar”. That hadn’t worked out at all. He was producing some impressive stokeplay, now met with minimal applause.
The stress seemed to be getting to Murray. He was bouncing the ball more, tugging at his shoes. In frustration he’d berate himself with sarcasm - “Good reaction!” - and phrases unacceptable on the courts of Dunblane. But he still had the courage for audacious dinks before Otte claimed the third set.
There was a delay for the court to be covered and Murray returned to the fray revived. “Oh Andy we love you!” was the cry. It spurred him on, right to the sensational end.
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