Three long years have passed since Andy Murray last competed in a grass court singles match in front of a loving home crowd and in that time innumerable obstacles have formed in the way of his modest goals of continuing to play the sport he loves. And so on Tuesday afternoon, as he took a rare positive step forward at the Queen’s Club by defeating Benoît Paire of France 6-3, 6-2 to reach the second round, the emotion that followed was long overdue.
After just his second ATP win since August, Murray was asked in his on-court interview how it felt to be competing again. “I love playing tennis,” he said. Then he choked up, apologising as the emotion took hold. “Obviously, competing is why you put in the hard work. The last few years I’ve not gotten to do it as much as I would like. It’s great that I’m out here and competing again.”
Before this tournament, it was clear that Murray was confident in his level of play and his body was the only question mark. His movement from the start and in all the important moments was therefore encouraging. He sealed his first service game by chasing down a drop shot and then broke serve in both sets with running passing shot winners to demonstrate his agility.
The rest of Murray’s game held up well enough, even though some understandable rust remains. He served well during all of the pressure moments, he allowed Paire’s big first serve few easy points with the quality of his returns and he eagerly swept up short balls with his forehand. He made just six unforced errors.
Murray’s success comes with a caveat, however. It was about the easiest match in the draw against Paire, an opponent whose motivational struggles during the pandemic are well documented. Although his effort is much improved, he has now lost 19 of his last 21 matches and it showed in his erratic decisions and wild misses that nearly hit the back fence.
Afterwards Murray said he was nervous enough to go to the toilet four times in 45 minutes before the match and he stepped on to the court with doubts, but as the match began he thought of nothing but winning. That has not always been the case at a time when he has so often stepped on to the court in pain.
Murray also said he wished he enjoyed the big and small successes throughout his career, and he has resolved to do so for as long as he plays. “That’s why like today, for example, speaking to my team and speaking to my family and stuff, I just wanted to go out there and enjoy it and just be myself. I did that. I enjoyed it.
“I’m always sort of telling myself, and maybe it’s not the best mindset, but each match could be my last one, you know, that I play now. I want to make the most of every match that I play and each tournament that I get the chance to compete in.”
In the second round on Thursday Murray will face Matteo Berrettini, the top seed. Earlier in the day Dan Evans, the sixth seed, defeated Alexei Popyrin 6-4, 6-4.
With Monday’s wins for Cameron Norrie and Jack Draper, this week marks the first time since 2005 that four Britons have each won their first-round match at Queen’s.