After being eliminated by Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday night, Andy Murray can legitimately ask why the All England Club are trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot with their scheduling.
There was a sense of Tim Henman against Goran Ivanisevic about the way that the overnight break rescued Tsitsipas on Thursday evening, just at the stage when he was becoming increasingly ragged under Murray’s searching inquisition.
But there was a key difference between these two matches. That 2001 instance was an act of God. Rain forced the players off after Henman had completed a 6-0 “bagel” set to seize the initiative.
The 2023 scenario is an all-too-human glitch in the matrix. Why do the All England Club still insist on starting their Centre Court schedule at 1.30pm when matches are dragging on longer and longer every year? This is the only grand slam event that has a curfew, and it arrived at just the wrong time for Murray on Thursday night.
Tsitsipas is an explosive athlete who loves to dominate the court. He came out of the blocks on Thursday like a hungry hound released from his kennel, only to be gradually wrapped up in Murray’s web and reduced to frustrated swishing.
The problem was, Murray had to come out and do the same thing all over again after the match resumed. Yes, he was leading by two sets to one, but he still looked tight and nervous during the key phase of the match – the fourth-set tie-break.
As Tsitsipas said in his on-court interview: “I felt for him, [with] how much it meant.” Murray has built his whole year around this moment, and it showed. His post-match mood was so low that he could not even say if he expected to be back at Wimbledon next year.
“I don’t know,” Murray replied. “Motivation is obviously a big thing. Continuing having early losses in tournaments like this doesn’t necessarily help with that.”
“Yes, it’s similar to, I guess, last year,” he added, in reference to the four-set defeat he suffered against John Isner in the second round of 2022. “I had a long think about things, spoke to my family, decided to keep on going. I don’t plan to stop right now. But, yes, this one will take a little while to get over. Hopefully find the motivation again to keep training, keep pushing, try and keep getting better.”
Murray’s mood would probably have been considerably brighter if he had broken in the ninth game of the fourth set. But again he was stymied by officialdom – even if the official in question was a line-judge this time, rather than a referee or tournament director.
Having hit his best shot of the day – a spectacular cross-court forehand winner, straight off Tsitsipas’s mighty first serve – Murray struck another fine return on the backhand side, catching the sideline. The ball was called out, however.
Asked why he had not made a Hawk-Eye challenge on this crucial point, Murray replied: “It was right underneath the umpire’s nose. If they’re unsure, they should let the player know. You can obviously argue it’s a mistake on my part [but] ultimately the umpire made a poor call that’s right in front of her.”
Had Murray won that point, he would have stood at 15-40, with two break points and the crowd boiling up in excitement. Instead, he could not convert his lead in the game and whacked his racket into the net-cord in frustration.
Would he like to remove the human element, and be judged by automated line-calling, which is already the case at two of the four majors? “Right now, I obviously would rather it was done automatically,” Murray replied.
“It’s a hard one because I probably prefer having the lines judges on the court. It feels nicer to me. The challenges – I think the crowd, the TV, they probably quite like it. But when mistakes are getting made in important moments, you don’t want that.”
It will be little consolation to Murray that he won seven more points than Tsitsipas across the match. Although he declined to criticise the All England Club’s scheduling, it cannot have been easy for this 36-year-old to crank himself up again for a second consecutive day. He was too passive throughout the afternoon, perhaps feeling disconcerted by the gusting wind, and never quite found the rhythm of Thursday night under the roof.
Throughout the fourth set, salvation appeared to be available in the shape of the many cheap errors available from Tsitsipas’s glitchy backhand. A game of cat and mouse developed in which Murray’s only thought was to keep the ball off the pulverising Greek forehand.
At times, it felt as if he forgot to establish his own attacking game, and was focusing too much on his opponent. In any case, the game plan became less effective in the fifth set. Tsitsipas started settling for defensive slices on that backhand side, and cut out the “cheapies”.
On the 10th anniversary of Murray’s maiden Wimbledon title, there was so much at stake. Too much, perhaps. Laslo Djere, the world No 60, awaited the winner in the third round, while Cameron Norrie’s exit meant that it was either Christopher O’Connell or Chris Eubanks in the fourth.
A deep run to the quarter-final or beyond was there for the taking, and there were times when Murray had the match on his racket. As you grow older, though, these sorts of moments become harder to seize, and something similar could be said about losses: they grow ever harder to take.
Tsitsipas beats Murry in five sets — as it happened
06:41 PM BST
Tim Henman on the BBC – ‘Maybe it was fatigue?’
In this second half of the match, Murray’s first-serve percentage wasn’t as good. Maybe that was fatigue in the legs. He wasn’t getting up to the ball quite as much and he wasn’t as aggressive from the baseline.
06:36 PM BST
Tsitsipas speaks to the BBC – ‘He made me run everywhere’
On Andy Murray…
“It’s never easy against Andy, I know. Everyone loves him here. It was a very difficult game and I’m impressed how well he holds up after his hip surgeries and his level today. I wish him the best in the future.
“It was nerve-racking. It was an obstacle and it’s extra difficult when you’ve grown up watching him play on this court.
“I had goosebumps when he won his first Wimbledon title and his courageous run in 2012.
“I looked up to him, Roger (Federer) Novak (Djokovic) and Rafa (Nadal) so these four guys shaped the game and they are reason I am the player I am today.”
On having to regroup after the overnight break…
“It did not help me that much, You are dealing with a lot of things.
“You are dealing with Andy Murray at the other side of the net, a set down and now was the most challenging part today.
“He can return a lot of balls and make it a marathon and I had to work extra hard.
“My legs are sore, and he made he run left and run, up and down for how many hours.”