Andy Murray's recent career has been plagued by injury but made it through his match on Wednesday without major issue
Credit: Paul Harding/Getty Images for LTA
Andy Murray confessed to making four visits to the bathroom in the space of 45 minutes before the start of Tuesday’s match at Queen’s. His nerves were stretched to breaking point, as he prepared for his first competitive outing on home soil since the summer of 2018.
As it happened, he need not have worried about his performance level. Murray came through by a 6-3, 6-2 scoreline, rolling back the years with some savvy grass-court tennis. And yet there was a sense of melancholy in his reaction afterwards. As he explained to reporters, “I’m always telling myself that each match could be my last.”
The same mood had affected Murray’s BBC interview at the side of the court. Asked by John Inverdale how it felt to be competing again, he choked up, and was unable to form any words for a good 30 seconds.
“I love it,” said Murray. “I love playing tennis.” Unfortunately, his body is rather less enthusiastic. Yes, he made it through this first outing with the help of a disengaged opponent in Benoit Paire. But those tears were not so much a reflection of his delight at a rare victory. Rather, they indicated what a struggle it is simply to drag himself onto the court.
Murray had surely deserved some luck after a wretched sequence of injuries over the last four years. Happily, this draw against Paire – who used to be a top 20 player but has fallen out of love with pandemic-era tennis – was almost a gimme.
At times, you wondered if you were watching an exhibition, so loose and languid was Paire’s approach, and so sleepy the mood at a sun-drenched Queen’s Club. “Thoroughly half-hearted but entertaining,” was the verdict of BBC commentator Andrew Castle on Paire, who was once a top-20 player but has lost his mojo completely in the last year, scoring one victory from his last 14 tournaments.
Murray spoke with emotion after the match but was focused during it
Credit: Getty Images Europe
The best part of Murray’s game was his focus. His movement was heavy-footed, as we might expect from a man with a metal hip, but he served well – touching 131mph on the speed gun at one stage – and also pulled off a solid number of his trademark flat backhand returns.
What we do not know is how he will respond to being pulled around the court more consistently. The crowd gasped in horror when he slipped and fell to his knees in the third game, but thankfully there was no lasting downside.
“I felt nervous this morning,” Murray said afterwards. “I was excited as well. There were doubts before going out there, but as soon as the first few games were played, the focus became less about your body and your hip and more about the match and trying to win.”
The hip is actually less of a problem at the moment than the mysterious groin pain which has restricted him since March, and has thus far proved impossible to explain. “Although I had some discomfort in the groin,” he said, “it was manageable, and not affecting me enough to affect my performance.”
During his TV interview, Murray had quirked an eyebrow at the idea that he might be back on court on Wednesday. In fact, he is not playing until tomorrow, and he will be grateful for a day’s rest before facing Matteo Berrettini – the Italian world No 9 who is the top seed at this event.
As Murray acknowledged, this second-round match will require a significant step up in quality. While Paire has only won two matches all season, Berrettini has won 22, and even took a set off Novak Djokovic – Mr Invincible himself – in Paris last week.
On Tuesday evening, Murray returned to the bubble hotel, where he and the other British players have enjoyed watching the Euros together. “It was not a pleasant day for the Scots yesterday,” he said, in reference to Monday’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Czech Republic. Dan Evans – who also won yesterday against Alexei Popyrin – will no doubt have been giving him grief about that.
Jack Draper and Cameron Norrie – the other two Britons who came through their first matches at Queen’s, in what is the best haul since 2005 – will be back onstage on Wednesday.