Wimbledon 2022: The familiar trudge, the usual contortions, the customary cursing … Wimbledon was back and so was Murray

The overnight queues were back. The sold-out signs were back. The rain was back and, when the clouds had been chased away with time-honoured Wimbledon efficiency, Andy Murray was back.

Andy Murray in full-on concentration mode in his win over Australia's James Duckworth
Andy Murray in full-on concentration mode in his win over Australia's James Duckworth

What joy to be at the All England Club after two Covid-disrupted years and bear witness once again to the all Scotland legend wielding a racket like a walloping great cudgel.

He was the last man standing at the end of a busy day in SW19, needing Centre Court’s lights and roof before he could see off the plucky Australian James Duckworth. But you kind of knew that would be the case. There was mild alarm - and an opening set conceded - before he prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. But you probably guessed that, too.

Afterwards, and with America’s John Isner next in the second round, a delighted Murray said: “It was amazing to be back playing on front of a full crowd. Obviously I’m getting on now and I don’t know how many more opportunities there will be for me but I intend to make the most of them.”

After no tournament at the height of the pandemic and severely restricted crowds last year, Wimbledon was looking very much like its old self, although there have been some changes. The umpire was presiding from a swankier chair which will surely bring sighs of regret from the traditionalists. The ballboys and girls were sporting stripes (ditto). And at just gone 6.30pm Murray, the two-times champ, and Duckworth, a 30-year-old Sydney native, entered the arena direct from the clubhouse through new double-doors. Before this innovation had come into being there was speculation about it possibly having borrowed from some TV talent shows. But there was no dry ice, no Stars in Their Eyes archway, even though the players glimpsed in outline behind the frosted glass prompted outbursts of “I see a little silhouetto of a man/Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango?”

Most important for Murray, reacquainting himself with the tournament at 35, was that Ivan Lendl was back in his box and on the team - a resumption of the partnership which had produced his two Wimbledon triumphs with Lendl coaching the Scot to No1 in the world.

Would we, with Ol’ Stoneface looking down, see a more controlled Murray? Last year, he went a bit wild. The crowd, although reduced, were gasping to let off some steam and Murray, who lasted the first week, would pick on spectators and provoke some call-and-response banter. Purely motivational, he stressed, and polite chap that he is, would apologise to his “victims” afterwards. But it was like he’d been released from captivity which in a way, after Covid and his

Injury woes, he had.

Duckworth breaking him to love, third game, with some fierce hits brought the familiar trudge from our man. But when Murray broke right back he burst into a skip, glanced up and seemed to find the approval he needed. It got the crowd involved too, for the first chant of “Come on, Andy, let’s go”.

While in silhouette waiting for their call you might have wondered what these two talked about. Maybe hips. Murray charges around on a metal one these days but Duckworth has stories to tell of nine operations in ten years, not all in the hip area, but the last that was had his surgeon expressing astonishment that Duckman, as he’s known, was able to play right through Australia’s summer.

Duckworth was hitting the ball well enough but it seemed like he’d have to kill rallies early. The longer they lasted the more he became a sitting Duckman for Murray’s control and variety of shot. The Scot had chances at 4-3 for another break but couldn’t take them. Then came Duckworth’s opportunity and another sizzling forehand handed him the advantage. Strong serving brought him the first set.

Right away in the second, Murray was on the brink of breaking but Duckworth had him dashing around the court in a manner that seemed almost cruel. Clearly there’s no concession on offer in this society of hirpling hips.

Murray was finding Duckworth a difficult man to pass. Then, 3-2 up, he produced two glorious backhand crosscourt winners to break and he hit speeds of close to 120mph on his own serve to clinch the set and level the contest.

James Duckworth wasn’t to be confused with Jack Duckworth, the hen-pecked, pigeon-fancying stalwart of Coronation Street for three mostly grumbly decades. One of Jack’s most memorable mutterings was “Lace curtains round the dustbin” - a variation of “Fur coat and no knickers”. You could also call that positive spin which in tennis is something else. Murray, getting in the groove, was applying plenty of it to his groundstrokes to force another break, prompting many in the crowd to leap to their feet. They were off their beam-ends again when he broke the Aussie once more. Duckworth tried to battle back. The tension lifted briefly when Murray, with his right foot, caught a stray ball sweet on the volley and someone shouted “Come on, the Hibees.”

As well as the familiar trudge from the Scot there was the usual contortions of the body when a shot went awry, followed by the customary cursing. But less of all of this as he served for the third set. Play was then suspended while the roof and lights were readied, as has also become standard when it’s Andrew Barron Murray, though for novelty he did throw in an underhand serve.

Murray had been been playing his best tennis of the match, though, so was there a chance the hold-up would muck up his momentum? He resumed well but Duckworth had recovered some of his earlier sprightliness. Then, a game where his opponent twice double-faulted, opened the door for Murray. He wasn’t about to pass that up.


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