All four of the top men’s seeds have now played a late night match on the Centre Court at Wimbledon 2012. One has fallen and three have prospered... but only one of those three has been engaged in a battle not only with victory but also with the clock. Andy Murray was that man tonight, as he tried not only to beat Marcos Baghdatis for a place in the fourth round, but do it before 11pm when play must always stop on the Centre Court, no matter what the score. He succeeded on both counts, winning 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in three hours and 13 minutes. As he galloped to action-packed victory, he grabbed the last set in a lightning 28 minutes, and just as well he did or else the match would have been held over to Monday.
With two lengthy previous matches delaying the start of this one until 7.12pm, it must be said that even as this joust began the Centre Court was a seriously cold place to be. In the blustery wind, many an envious glance was cast towards the Royal Box, whose occupants arefurnished with blankets (in purple and green, of course). But right from the off it was hot stuff on court, with Baghdatis – the former world No.8 – belying his current ranking of 42.
The first set was closely fought but always felt as if it had Murray’s name stamped on it, and so it proved. Yet it wasn’t simple. At 3-4 he had to save two break points – and on the second his shot was called long. He challenged and HawkEye saved him by showing it clipped the line. Then at 4-4, Murray felt a Baghdatis stroke was out but the Scot did not stop playing before making as if to challenge. Umpire Steve Ullrich would not allow it, and Baghdatis held, with Murray berating Ullrich from his chair at the changeover: “You got that one wrong.” But actually it was Murray who was wrong, as the call was proven to be correct.
Such moments of temperament can knock Murray’s game off-course sometimes, but not on this occasion. At 5-5 Baghdatis played loosely to give Murray two break points, and on the second Baghdatis – unwisely in the blustery conditions – attempted a cross court drop shot. It went out. Good touches with slice gave Murray two set points, and he took it with his first ace of the match.
At 1-1 in the second he opened up the court to notch up a string of break points, and on the third Baghdatis netted. A set and a break up – all was looking good for the Scot, a semi-finalist here for the last three years. But next game he double-faulted with break point against him to give the advantage back. It was the fifth game that seemed to decide the set. It was merely a hold for Baghdatis, but what a hold. Murray had six break points, but could make none of them stick. Small wonder the Cypriot – now guided by Murray’s former coach Miles Maclagan – smiled broadly. And he smiled wider still in the game after that, when successive Murray errors handed the break for 4-2. To makematters worse the No.4 seed kept slipping on the court, a couple of times with quite a crash landing. Meantime, the set was playing outand it belonged to Baghdatis. After one hour and 51 minutes’ play it was 9.03pm. The light was failing badly, and it was time to close the roof for the fourth night in a row. Play was suspended.
When they resumed 36 minutes later, Murray’s knee was plastered with black tape. But his movement seemed good and Baghdatis had to save two break points at 1-2. Yet right after that, some seriously loose play from Murray handed the advantage to Baghdatis and he led 3-2. But this was a match knee deep in break points, and the Scot racked up his 15th in the next game. It bore no fruit and Baghdatis beat his chest as he held. At 3-4 the Scot forced another pair of break points, and on the first yet again Murray slipped and fell on the baseline – but on the second Baghdatis netted and it was 4-4.
At 5-5 Murray weathered an extraordinary crisis. For the second time in the match, a spare ball fell out of his pocket during a rally, and umpire Ullrich ruled that the point must be forfeit. That made it 30-all, whereupon Murray made a mistake for break point. But he saved it, and held for 6-5. But it felt more important than that, and momentum was with him. When one set point came his way, he converted it with a backhand pass and literally howled in prolonged celebration.
Now less than half an hour remained before the obligatory 11pm halt would be called. At 2-1 a string of four separate break points came Murray’s way, and only when Baghdatis double-faulted on the last was the breach decisive. The Scot sprinted on, holding to love. When he held again for 4-1, he didn’t sit down at the changeover although Baghdatis did not rise until he had to, when the clock reached 10.57pm. At 10.59pm, an unforced Baghdatis error gave Murray two break points – and he clinched the break as the clock on the Centre Court reached 11pm. In theory play should have been suspended and resumed in around 40 hours’ time. But with tournament referee Andrew Jarrett watching from the sidelines, Murray was allowed to serve. He held to love and the match was his. That’s how it goes, in a story like this.