For the third night this week he welcomed us into AndyWorld. We strapped ourselves in, hoping to enjoy the show. The TV millions, meanwhile, were urged to put down the boxsets with their contrived highs and signposted lows. Don’t watch that, watch this.
We watched, we played every point with him, and would have tried to return the ones out of his reach, if that had been allowed. But Canada’s Denis Shapovalov was just too quick, too fierce and too good - although even in the end almost a reluctant victor. “I just told Andy at the net that he’s my hero,” he said.
There was full acknowledgement from the 22-year-old leftie, who won 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, that he’d been playing a man still overcoming the cruellest of career interruptions. “What he’s doing nobody’s ever done,” Shapovalov said. “He’s truly inspirational to everyone, including me.”
First game, first point, Murray slipped and glowered at his footwear, something carried over from Wednesday. Shapovalov with his headband and convention-flouting black hosiery seemed to be trying for a punky skateboarder vibe. His backhand could have been contravening some arcane rule with its ferociousness, but Murray in the next game responded with a couple of screamers of his own to threaten his opponent’s serve.
Then a mini-drama of a game: Murray serving, caught flat-footed twice on his forehand, the younger man - by 12 years - covering both wings with such dash we wondered if he actually possessed a skateboard, Shapovalov taking his seat thinking he’d won, Hawkeye summoning him back, and finally the Canadian, nicknamed Shapo, proving too strong in the deciding pont. Result: first break. A mini-drama, also a microcosm of what would lie ahead.
Shapovalov’s exuberance with the racket must have been highly irritating to Murray’s fans, if not the man himself. Murray tried to stop-volley him, he tried to drop-volley him, but Shapovalov was always there with the decisive stroke, and he broke Murray again.
The first set seemed to be his. At 5-2 he was serving for it. But Murray did him to love. Next game, too. The crowd came alive.
A new feature of AndyWorld is the stand-up comedy sideshow. Similar to how an Edinburgh Festival Fringe comedian will recruit hecklers to enliven his act, Murray picks out a face in the stands and gets a dialogue going. “I hope they don’t think it weird that I shout and scream at them,” he said the other day. Bet they don’t. And how many at this match actively wanted the two-times champ to alight on them? Choose me, Andy. You bellow and I’ll bellow back. We can do this!
He zoomed in on a corner of the court. A middle-aged woman who didn’t look like she’d ever said boo to a goose, even as it lay on the baking tray on Christmas morning, ventured a small shout. It almost worked, Murray almost got back to 5-5. The drop shot to clinch the opening set for Shapo, against a player with a metal hip, seemed almost cruel.
But Murray wasn’t after sympathy. He wanted rigorous examinations of his battered body and this was certainly one. First game, second set, he thought he’d put Shapovalov away; a sensational recovery killed the cheers. Another break.
Shapovalov walks with a cocky strut but he’d shown nerves at the conclusion of the first set. Could Murray get him in such a position again? Not if he wasn’t going to put his opponent away while the man was grounded.
Incredibly, this happened two games running. Shapovalov secured a second break but once again Murray threatened to come back at him. After a scorching backhand, an encouraging Scottish voice rang out: “All day, big man, all day.” More jitters from Shapovalov who twice double-faulted. But he held on to stretch his lead.
The gloom descended and it was time again for Centre to be covered. Was it time, then, for another roof-raising fightback? “Come on, Andy, let’s go,” his fans shouted, still believing (maybe, just). But on the resumption Shapovalov grabbed another break.
Now there was gloom around the stands. Murray’s fans tried to lift their idol, the man who’s given them two titles a thousand thrills, but Shapovalov, gaunt and gimlet-eyed, could sense victory and was beyond caring that his stinging serves and screeching winners were being met with a smattering of grudging applause.
Murray wasn’t beating himself up like in the previous match and had stopped looking for a pretend-fight in the stands. Serving at 0-5 and 15-40 the crowd tried one last time to re-ignite the contest. Murray won the game and he sat down, sipped his drink and gazed skywards. Meanwhile the next generation perched, legs chugging like pistons. Surely not?
Every last point Murray put on the board was cheered to the rafters along with every sclaff by Shapovalov, though in truth there weren’t many of them. A glorious backhand won Murray another game.
If he wanted, our man could market his jousts as the next level up from these beefy clowns who scrap behind bars on late-night telly. Cages, you see, are for sissies. Andy Murray is: Ultimate CourtFighter.
Just not this time. You have to tip your hat to Shapo; the young gun has got some weapons. But surely there will be more next times for Murray. There simply has to be.