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The Andy Murray Show on Centre Court delivers yet again
“Playing in atmospheres like that, and, yeah, creating moments and memories like that is one of the reasons why I’m still playing,” Murray said. “Like, why would you want to give that up?”
Published Jul 01, 2021
The many highs and lows of Andy Murray’s second-round win over Oscar Otte at Wimbledon on Wednesday were neatly encapsulated by three statements that BBC commentator Andrew Cotter made at different stages of the match.
“He’s lost in a world of his own muttering,” Cotter said during the second set, when Murray was in the process of handing back a set-and-a-break lead, and had begun berating himself under his breath.
“His beloved Centre Court is a place of suffering for him,” Cotter said, after Murray fell behind two sets to one, and was hanging his head between points and barking half-decipherable comments in the direction of his player box.
But an hour or so later, after Murray had leveled the match at 2-sets all, Cotter had happier news to bring:
“It’s the sound of years past for Andy Murray in Centre Court!” the commentator cried over the thunderous roar of the audience, which had been brought to its feet by a forehand pass that Murray seemed to have run back a decade or more to find.
In short, it was just like old times. After a four-year hiatus, one of tennis’s great traditions, the Andy Murray show on Centre Court, was back in all of its pain and glory. Murray struggled mightily to hold a lead all afternoon. He slipped on the slick grass. He played overly defensive tennis much of the time, and went to the drop shot too often when he was tight. He let the 151st-ranked player in the world push him around for two sets. But Murray still knew what it took to win on this court: He worked the fans into a frenzy, and then let them lift him across the finish line, for a 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 win in three hours and 51 minutes.
“Playing in atmospheres like that, and, yeah, creating moments and memories like that, yeah, is one of the reasons why I’m still playing,” Murray said with a smile. “Like, why would you want to give that up?”
This time Murray had a worthy partner in his performance. Otte, a 27-year-old from Cologne, Germany, said this week that Murray is an “icon” and an inspiration for him, and that he teared up as he watched Murray’s documentary about his struggles and comebacks. When the match was over, Otte said, “For me, he’s the best ever.”
Otte was an entertaining foil for Murray’s raging lead role. The German began the match complaining that his shorts were too big for him. After falling down in the fourth set, he mimicked toking on a joint—for him, it seems, Wimbledon’s grass is made for smoking, not running.
But Otte played with daring and creativity, and never let the crowd get to him. He came to net 87 times, and matched Murray shot for shot and drop for drop. Otte hit 60 winners to Murray’s 55, and seemed to be heading for a possible win when the roof was closed in the fourth set, and play was stopped for 20 minutes.
“That’s what I thought about now after the match the most,” Otte said when he was asked about the roof closure. “Because I was really struggling with my serve when the roof was on top, also with the light. I know it’s for both players, but I couldn’t find my serve rhythm anymore and I was serving worse.”
As Otte got worse, Murray got better—at hitting his shots, and getting the crowd involved. He found a few particularly loud Scottish partisans, and helped them get louder.
“When we came back out after the roof, I was, like, you know, I need to have more energy, I need to try and engage with the crowd more,” Murray said. “You know, I picked a few people in the crowd and was basically, like, staring at them pretty much after every point and trying to, yeah, just engage with them.”
“You know, the crowd created a great atmosphere, but I think I was also, yeah, engaging them and we were feeding off each other a lot at the end.”
Murray needed all the help he could get, because holding onto a lead was never easy for him today. Up a set and 3-1, he basically fell apart. Serving for the fourth set, he was broken. And up a break in the fifth, he had to fight tooth and nail not to give it back. But a tough hold at 2-0 in the fifth, and that running forehand pass at 4-2, and he was finally free. All of the old memories, of how to close out matches like this, had come flooding back.
We’ve heard a lot this year about what having sports and fans in our lives again will mean to us. One thing that a sport, and particularly tennis, can do is dramatize the idea of controlling your own destiny. That’s what it has felt like watching Murray this week. He has willed himself to win his two matches, and willed a collective energy and belief from his audiences. He has told everyone to “Let’s go!”, and his wins have felt like a shared effort, from people who haven’t had a chance to share much over the past year and a half.
Afterward, Murray said it wasn’t easy to keep his concentration for three hours after not playing matches like this for so long. Then he tried to put it in words that we writers could understand.
“I’m sure if you took sort of four or five months away from writing a story and then you’ve got to come up with one like on the spot, it’s not that easy,” he said.
You’re right, Andy. Thanks for writing another classic for us, and bringing back those sounds of years past.