June 23, 2020
Andy Murray played competitive tennis for the first time in seven months and showed us just what we’ve been missing.
There were moments of utter brilliance as the gutsy Scot defeated Liam Broady 6-2, 6-2 in the Battle of the Brits.
Perfectionist Murray knows he still has a long way to go to become a Grand Slam contender once more.
But when you haven’t played since November and you rely on a metal hip for smooth movement, a performance as good as this one has to be extremely encouraging.
Can Murray make an impact at Wimbledon 2021 based on this first step? Certainly!
Two moments stood out and they both came in the second set. Andy produced an incredible lob under massive pressure to take control of a punishing rally.
When he won that particular war of attrition against the odds, Murray had broken to go 2-1 up.
He let out a triumphant “c’mon!” as he clenched his fist in recognition that his best tennis was returning.
But there was even more magic to come. At 4-2 up Andy stretched to find a superb forehand return. Back came Broady to leave Murray with what should have been a defensive backhand half-volley on the baseline.
Somehow Andy turned that into a near-impossible crosscourt winner. Even his opponent smiled in disbelief.
We had to remind ourselves that here was a man who had only played one competitve match since October.
He had almost been written off in some of the pre-tournament trash-talk. Typically he used that to his psychological advantage.
The older man acknowledged before the match: ‘If I lost to someone with a metal hip I’d be disappointed.’
Did that play on Broady’s mind as his forehand often went missing and he became increasingly frustrated? Maybe.
Murray knows there will be tougher days and matches ahead. Within hours, in fact – against Kyle Edmund.
‘I’ll have to play better than today,’ Andy admitted. ‘Kyle played well today, he is hitting big and he is fit. I’d be surprised if I come through that one.’
Maybe so. Edmund saw off James Ward 6-1, 6-4 with the same sort of dominance Dan Evans enjoyed during his 6-3, 6-1 win over Jay Clarke.
But Murray’s body has come through its first big test. He also gained some family revenge after Broady and his partner Cameron Norrie beat the experienced favourites Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski 3-6, 7-5, 11-9.
A dramatic super-breaker was the difference in the doubles and a set-back for poor Jamie, who had organised the entire event.
But his younger brother more than restored family honour. He gave us all hope for the future.
Why shouldn’t Andy do well at Wimbledon 2021? One match all year and we are already starting to see flashes of magic.
‘I moved OK and did alright considering the courts are quite tight and it was my first match for seven months,’ he said with a distinct air of self-criticism.
And he is right, we shouldn’t expect too much at this tournament. These are early days.
All we wanted was good reason for hope. One more firm indication that Wimbledon 2021 will be super-special.
Andy Murray certainly gave us that.