Andy Murray was proud of his resilience after he overcame a dramatic third-set collapse to defeat Nikoloz Basilashvili and make a winning return to Centre Court.
The former world number one, playing his first singles match at Wimbledon since 2017, looked set to cruise over the line when he led by two sets and 5-0 in front of a raucous crowd.
But Murray faltered within sight of the line, 24th seed Basilashvili found renewed hope and he reeled off seven games in a row, saving two match points, to force a fourth set with darkness closing in.
That meant a delay while the roof was closed and Murray regrouped, moved back in front and this time finished the job off to win 6-4 6-3 5-7 6-3.
The Scot said: “I think I played well up to probably 5-3 in the third set. That’s never happened to me before in my career, being three breaks of serve up and two sets to love up.
“The first game where I served for it, I think he played a decent game. The 5-2 game, I was a little bit nervous. Didn’t serve particularly well at those moments. I was having to play longer rallies. I then started making bad decisions, which again I think is a sign of lack of match play.
“As it started to get closer to the end of that set and I’m starting to feel a little bit of fatigue and then there’s doubt that creeps in because I have not been exposed to three, four hours of tennis for a very long time.
“I dealt with the pressure of the match really well until the end of the third set when I didn’t. But I don’t think there’s many players that would have won that fourth set. A lot of players would have capitulated there and I did the opposite of that.
“When you’re starting the fourth set, having just lost seven games on the spin, and the headlines that you have choked and those sorts of things and it’s one of the worst defeats of your career is what you would have heard after that match had I lost, it’s not easy to turn that round.”
Four years after limping out of Wimbledon following a quarter-final loss to Sam Querrey, Murray returned in singles with expectations severely tempered by ongoing physical issues and a lack of match play.
With Basilashvili an opponent of some calibre and a two-time ATP Tour champion this season, there were fears Murray’s return could also be his Wimbledon swansong.
But the 34-year-old has been consistently bullish about his chances of returning to the top of the game if his body cooperates, and the test will now be whether he can back up this match against one of two qualifiers, Oscar Otte or Arthur Rinderknech, who were tied at 9-9 in the fifth when their match was suspended.
It was like old times as Murray walked out in early evening sunshine to a huge roar from the Centre Court crowd, which, although only at 50 per cent capacity, was doing its best to make up for the empty seats.
This was only Murray’s sixth tour-level match this year, with a groin problem having been niggling away since March, and it was clear in his two matches at Queen’s Club that the Scot was rusty.
But some high-level practice sessions, including on Friday with Roger Federer, had given him extra time on court and the difference was noticeable from the start.
Murray’s serve was at a different level to recent times, his movement sharp and his strokes – with a few exceptions – crisp and penetrating.
The roar he gave to the crowd, which reciprocated heartily, after breaking serve to take the opening set was a glorious reminder of times past.
The second set saw Georgian Basilashvili – who is the subject of an ongoing court case in his home country after being accused of domestic violence against his ex-wife, which he denies – threaten the Murray serve but fail to take his opportunities.
Murray was not so generous when his chance came at 4-3 and from there he gave a demonstration of grass-court tennis of the highest quality, winning seven games in a row to move to the brink of victory before things abruptly changed.
After taking his fourth match point, Murray said: “I kept trying, kept working hard, doing all the right things to get me back in this position. I feel very lucky I get to do it again.
“I keep getting asked if this is going to be my last Wimbledon, last match. No. I’m going to keep playing. I want to play. I’m enjoying it. I can still play at the highest level. He’s ranked 28 in the world. I’ve hardly played any matches and I beat him.”