It was an all too familiar sight; Andy Murray fighting with everything he has deep into a south-west London night on a Centre Court that has witnessed so many of his greatest victories, but even after 16 years after his Wimbledon debut it still never gets old.
Not for the fans who screamed and cheered until it all ended with a sickly sweet lob winner, nor for Murray who dipped into those bottomless reserves of willpower that have sustained him for so long and emerged, somehow, with another win to reach the third round of Wimbledon by defeating Oscar Otte of Germany 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
It is the first time Murray has trod this far at a slam since 2017, when he was the No 1 player in the world as his hip had started to crumble. This time, he did so by enduring dire unforced errors, incandescent frustration and numerous falls on a hazardous court, yet still recovering from two sets to one down to win once again on his well worked metal hip.
“I enjoyed the end,” said Murray in his on-court interview. “The middle part not so much. What an atmosphere to play in. The whole crowd was amazing but there were a few guys in there who were getting it fired up. I needed everyone’s help tonight. They did a great job. I played some great lobs to finish it but it was a tough match.”
After his first-round upset win against Nikoloz Basilashvili, the 24th seed, what awaited Murray was another scenario he has not endured in recent years. His opponent, Oscar Otte, was an inexperienced German qualifier ranked 33 spots lower than Murray at No. 151. This was, on paper, a clear opportunity in a rare match that he stood as the favourite in.
The last time Murray won a grand slam match, however, his five-set fight at the US Open last year was as far as his body could go. When he returned to face Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round, his body was kaput and he was easy prey. The clear concern was whether he would recover this time, which Murray was curious to learn about himself.
As he began against Otte, the early feedback was positive. He looked sharp, his serve picking up from the opening sets of his first round match, he continued to move smoothly and elicit errors with his skidding slice. But as the match endured, Murray’s level began to falter and his game became caked with errors.
Much like in his first round, when he very nearly squandered a two set, 5-0 lead, Murray attributed his errant play to his lack of matches in recent years.
He has just not played enough matches in recent years to be comfortable under pressure and with so much on the line, it shows in the wrong decisions and soft errors.
A tall, bearded German with a big serve and ample confidence in the forecourt, Otte had already shown his fortitude by overcoming his fellow qualifier Arthur Rinderknech 13-12 (2) in the fifth set of a match that was played across two days.
As Murray faltered, he stepped up, pinning the Scot behind the baseline as he recovered from a 6-3, 3-1 down to reel off two successive sets with impenetrable serving.
Murray’s attempts to fight back were halted at 1-0 as he became the latest player to tumble on the Centre Court grass and for a brief worrying moment he stood up holding his groin. But he shook off the knock and held serve again before the umpire, Aurelie Tourte, announced the roof would be used due to bad light with the score tied at 2-2 in the fourth set.
Murray returned a different player. He was determined to impose himself on rallies far more than he had done throughout the match. He crushed a cross-court forehand in the opening point and then advanced as so, immediately breaking serve. Although Murray failed to serve out the set, it only emboldened him to conduct his affairs on his own terms. He made his charge at 5-4, closing off the set with consecutive volley and backhand winners.
By the final set, the crowd screamed with every point as Murray constantly hollered back. He ended the match with an array of inspired shots, including a backhand passing shot after an epic game at 4-2 and then a running backhand lob to hold. After a warm embrace with Otte, Murray thanked a particularly vocal fan by giving him a souvenir Wimbledon umbrella and one of his shirts.
Then Murray packed his bags, gave an interview and then he departed quickly. Unlike for so much of his past few months and years of rehab and pain, there is another match to play.
“It’s tough obviously going out and playing matches of that length when you know you have not had many matches, not played a whole lot of grass court tennis in four years,” said Murray.
“So, yeah. It’s been tough. That’s one of the reasons why I’m still playing is because of moments like that. Why would you want to give that up? The atmosphere the last — I mean, it was good the whole match, but especially the last hour and a half was brilliant. I still enjoy that.”