Andy Murray was a slight betting underdog when he took to centre court for the first time in four years to take on 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili.
In years gone by, it would be unthinkable that the two-time Wimbledon champion would be unfancied when taking on someone outside of the traditional big three of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
But this isn’t the Murray of 2016. Five years ago, the Scot reached three Grand Slam finals, winning at SW19 for the second time and even managed to make history by becoming the only player to win two Olympic singles golds when he defended the title that he had won during the London 2012 Games.
The 2021 version of the Dunblane native is an entirely different beast. Five years ago, he was threatening to turn that trio of dominance into the ‘Fantastic Four’, something that, quite frankly, his ability warranted.
However, injuries cruelly took their toll on his body, and the now 34-year-old returns to Wimbledon with a metal hip that has been operated on multiple times in a bid to save what has been a brilliant career.
Let’s not forget, Murray has been world number one as recently as 2017, and showed no signs of giving up that title until he was forced to pull out of the US Open that year.
Since then, it has been a frustrating battle that has starved the Glasgow man of a large chunk of what should have been his prime years. The fact that he was back at Wimbledon after a four-year absence was impressive enough, but he was expected to struggle after being handed a tough draw against a plucky Georgian in Basilashvili.
Just hours before his return to his beloved centre court, there seemed to be something of a changing of the guard as 19-year-old Jack Draper stole the first set from a previously rampant Djokovic in search of a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title.
There is a case to be made for the Serbian being named as the greatest of all time, and an historic win this summer would perhaps put the debate to bed. But we’ll leave that for another time.
This is about Andy Murray, and how he perhaps isn’t quite ready to zip up his racquet case for good just yet. Draper would go on to lose 3-1 in a valiant effort, and Wimbledon may have just unearthed another British hero to roar on in years to come. His time will come, however, for now at least, the main British attraction remains Murray.
Not interested in playing to the script, the 2012 US Open champion erupted into action in front of a vibrant centre court and took the opening two sets 6-4 6-3. The third set saw the two-time All England Club king take a 5-0 lead, as the onlooking home crowd dreamed of an unlikely run to the latter stages for their hero.
The giddy onlookers were rudely reminded that, this is Murray, and this is Wimbledon. It is never easy. In an unbelievable twist, the match turned on its head as Basilashvili fought back to win the next seven consecutive games to take the third set 7-5.
In throwing away the third set from the brink of victory, Murray had wasted two match points, and the forced 10-minute break in play to allow time for the centre court roof to close came at the perfect time for a player who evidently needed to recompose himself. He did just that, and bounced back to take the fourth set and avoid a first ever opening round exit at his home tournament.
As previously mentioned, this isn’t the Murray of years gone by that beat Djokovic in straight sets in 2013 to become the first Brit to win at Wimbledon in 77 years. He isn’t as mobile as he once was, and that ability to quickly cover ground on the court that made him one of the greatest defensive players of all time is now at best questionable.
It goes without saying that he will have to change his approach, but that’s what the best do in any sport. Look at the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Vladimir Klitschko and Lebron James. They have all had to make changes at various stages in their careers to remain at the top, and have done so successfully.
The difference with Murray, who is now ranked 118 in the world, is that he isn’t making changes to his game to stay at the summit of the sport that he loves so dearly. He is making them to return to the top.
It won’t be easy, far from it, and Betfred make him a whopping 50/1 to win his third SW19 title. However, when asked whether he was playing at Wimbledon for the last time, the 11-time Grand Slam finalist was emphatic in his response.
“I keep getting asked ‘is this going to be my last Wimbledon, my last match?’” Murray said. “I don’t know why I keep getting asked about it.
“No! I'm going to keep playing. I want to play. I'm enjoying it and I can still play at the highest level.
“I mean, he's ranked 28 in the world and I've hardly played any matches and I beat him, so I'll keep going."
With world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas suffering a shock straight sets defeat to unseeded Frances Tiafoe, Murray’s path to the latter stages has just been made that bit easier. It’s a huge ask, but if the man himself thinks he is capable of it, why shouldn’t we?
Come on, Andy!