Andy Murray is back.
Almost. The Scot was adamant he would not risk aggravating the back injury that has kept him out for nearly a month by trying to finish his second-round match against Nicolas Mahut at soggy, slippery Queen's on Wednesday night – a fortnight before Wimbledon – and resumes on Thursday with every prospect of beating the Frenchman and, later, the young Australian Marinko Matosevic.
Two matches in one day was probably not what Murray had envisaged for his comeback, but the weather of this alleged summer was wretched again. It should improve on Thursday and he will resume at 2–2 in the second set after winning the first 6–3. Matosevic, incidentally, had the day off after the withdrawal of Michael Llodra with a hamstring injury, and gets to put his feet up until Murray finishes his match, which is on second.
The vibe coming from the Murray camp is that he is back in good shape since retiring with a recurrence of lower back pain at a set apiece against Marcel Granollers in Rome on 15 May. He did not step on to a court for 10 days and after several scans and widely canvassed medical advice, decided only last week he was fit enough to return. Murray is receiving daily treatment and, as he demonstrated on Wednesday, he is unwilling to gamble on his fitness by playing in less than ideal conditions. He is determined not to miss Wimbledon, where he reached the final last year, and then won an Olympic gold medal.
In the 58 minutes Murray and Mahut squeezed in during three shifts on Centre Court, the world No2 looked fit and sharp, if a little suspicious of the surface. He hit the ball cleanly, powering down on some of his groundstrokes and taking care not to slide adventurously on grass that had been drizzled like a summer salad most of the day. Towards the end of the first edition of their interrupted contest, Murray moved with ginger steps when chasing a wide return on his forehand, and the water squelched audibly underfoot. He did not look happy.
Murray was a set up, serving at 15-0 and 2-2 in the second when the players sought shelter for the final time. The temptation must have been considerable to try for a quick finish but, as the weather soured, that possibility was discounted, which was probably as well.
If Murray were looking for supporting evidence that going back on court was folly, he needed only to recall the infamous spill of Greg Rusedski here in 1998, when he fell heavily on greasy grass 17 minutes into his third-round match against the Belgian qualifier Laurence Tieleman and was carried off in some pain. He played at Wimbledon, against the advice of his coach Tony Pickard, and hobbled away on torn ankle ligaments after starting his first-round match against the Australian Mark Draper.
Rusedski and Pickard indulged in a public slanging match and split. The Queen's crash was not entirely to blame, but the consequences were unfortunate and avoidable. It is doubtful Murray and his coach Ivan Lendl had any difference of opinion on Wednesday.
It was not all gloom. Dan Evans, the wildcard with the wild past, again provided proof of his pedigree with a three-set win over Jarkko Nieminen – at the very moment British tennis was renewing its vows with its lead sponsor for another four years. This is not yet a golden era but, as Evans's cultured racket carved a pleasing arc through the grey day, there were reasons to believe there might be sunnier days ahead.
Evans has been a perplexing character, a magnet for accusations that the LTA for too long has indulged promising players who consistently fail to deliver. But after his heroics for Leon Smith's Great Britain team in the Davis Cup in Coventry this year, the Birmingham player has won a low-level tournament abroad and last week beat the rising American Ryan Harrison in Nottingham.
, he faltered a couple of times against the accomplished No13 seed but recovered to win 6-4, 6-7, 6-4. Later he celebrated a wildcard into the Wimbledon qualifiers, conceding he is not yet worth a free pass into the main tournament. "I wasn't expecting a main draw," he said, although his teenage contemporary, Kyle Edmund has one, " because I wasn't inside the criteria. I think it's good that they're being strong with it, because then there's no grey area. You're either inside 250 or you're not, especially for the older ones."
Evans, who turned 23 last month, is ranked 277 in the world but is maturing and improving by the tournament. He has reason, perhaps, to look more closely at the tattoo on the inside of his left arm: "Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future." Oscar Wilde wasn't much of a tennis player, but he knew a thing or two about life.
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