One of my major takeaways from my first live-and-in-person experience of watching Andy Murray play on the Centre Court of Wimbledon is that he truly does ask a lot of us as his fans. He screams at us. Yells at us. Roars at us. We lose our voices to him as all sense of the usual socially acceptable decorum that SW19 is known for is overtaken by this rampant need to see a man overcome whatever obstacle he may face.
But the thing is, watching Andy Murray traverse his way across odds that are stacked against him is one thing but watching him fail to do so is quite another. Yes, it’s heartbreaking, devastating, crushing, all of that for sure, but it’s also a reminder that sometimes we can work hard, practice harder, prepare the hardest and be as ready for something as it’s possible for us to be, and still be told “sorry, not today.”
As the roof came over and the lights came on across the 100-year-old stadium court last night with Murray trailing the American John Isner 2-4 in a do-or-die fourth set for the Scot, there was a sense that if he was going to win this match, it would require something that seemed impossibly out of reach. Murray seemed to know this as well, his head bowed as he sat court-side briefly before the roof announcement, his fingers stretching wide across the top of his head and imprisoning his thoughts in there for us all to only guess at.
The first two sets of the match had been a one-note story, Isner’s serve writing yet another chapter for itself to be considered as the greatest in the game. In fairness, this was backed up by baseline consistency and a wicked touch at net that we haven’t come to expect from him and this combination was enough for him to remain on the front-foot throughout in a display that had Centre Court murmuring with frustrated acknowledgment of superior play. Some will call the Isner style boring but that line of thought matters little in terms of tennis results. Boringly effective is still very much effective.
The potential storyline from here was barely tangible for Murray fans. It existed on the edges of our thoughts, daring us to look at it and acknowledge it, none of us daring yet to do so in case it should disappear in a flash beneath our wanting-gaze.
A five-set fightback? Let none of us think it. Not yet. Not. Yet.
The third set progressed as serenely as the first two and a second tiebreak was upon us, this one coming with the added pressure of a match lost for Murray should he fail to win it. But win it he did, Isner’s first serve faltering beneath the weight of Murray’s desire that made itself apparent through the usual hallmarks of growls and fist-pumps and asking grated growls that had the Centre Court faithful on their feet by the end of it.
The one thing that needs to be said here is that regardless of your thoughts on the 2022 version of Andy Murray’s tennis, he still has the innate ability to make us think the unthinkable. Two sets to one down, a metal hip in place, and in battle with a cannonball barrage, he STILL had us all believing he could click his fingers and fix it. Because this was Andy fucking Murray in his prime, Andy Murray in his element, Andy Murray in action, artfully Picasso-ing his way out of yet another messy situation, paint splattering emotion dripping down the edges of the stands, from the seats, from the rafters high on the roof above, from the Royal fucking Box, and zigzagging its way amongst the precisely cut blades of Centre Court.
Andy Murray can still make us forget reality and likelihood and reason and the realistic and in a world dominated by cold dark facts, those moments of madness should be treasured and bottled and held onto for as long as humanly possible.
So were we thinking a five-set fightback? Were we thinking it at that stage? I think yes. I think yes we were.
But when we want something, how frequently is it quickly taken away? Indeed, on the come-up and playing better, energised and gassed from a crowd that were giving him everything, Murray netted a backhand that knocked the wind from his sails and drew haunted gasps from the crowd. You felt it at that moment. Isner, belief instilled with the knowledge of his serve remaining unbroken throughout, took the break point that followed and after the roof closure, the match.
Vocal cords hanging limply in our throats, we stood and applauded him — the two-time Wimbledon champion, the three-time major winner, the two-time Olympic gold medalist, a former world number one — off the court in defeat.
Watching Andy Murray makes you feel like you’re a part of something. It makes you feel like you belong, that your tiny small bit in it all really truly does matter. When you watch him on the TV, he makes you want to reach through the screen and push him just that little bit beyond the limit just one more time. When you watch him in person, well… he makes you care. He makes you care because he asks you to and because he does, he cares, so damn much that it looks like it’s hurting him sometimes, tearing itself through his skin in anguish. And so we do whatever we can do to help him cope with it. Maybe if you shout just that wee bitty louder, it’ll be enough. And sometimes it is! Sometimes it is enough and sometimes… sometimes it isn’t. What that ultimately means is that when Andy Murray loses, you hurt along with him. It’s what you sign up for. It’s what’s necessary. It’s what’s required. And my god, being an Andy Murray fan has hurt sometimes. Hurt hard. Hurt big. But at no point, at no singular point throughout his decade-and-a-half long career, has he ever made me regret caring.
As he took his leave from Centre Court last night, exiting in the second round of Wimbledon 2022, Andy Murray left his fans hurting and caring and still very much hoping that this wouldn’t be the last.