WIMBLEDON: Murray and Evans through, Watson horror show
Andy Murray and Dan Evans have both advanced to the second round at Wimbledon while Heather Watson bowed out late on day one.
Murray was making his return to Wimbledon since his last match in 2017.
The Scot was proud of his resilience after he overcame a dramatic third-set collapse to defeat Nikoloz Basilashvili and make a winning return to Centre Court.
The former world number one looked set to cruise over the line when he led by two sets and 5-0 in front of a raucous crowd.
But Murray faltered within sight of the line, 24th seed Basilashvili found renewed hope and he reeled off seven games in a row, saving two match points, to force a fourth set with darkness closing in at Wimbledon.
That meant a delay while the roof was closed and Murray regrouped, moved back in front and this time finished the job off to win 6-4 6-3 5-7 6-3.
The Scot said: “I think I played well up to probably 5-3 in the third set. That’s never happened to me before in my career, being three breaks of serve up and two sets to love up.
“The first game where I served for it, I think he played a decent game. The 5-2 game, I was a little bit nervous. Didn’t serve particularly well at those moments. I was having to play longer rallies. I then started making bad decisions, which again I think is a sign of lack of match play.
“As it started to get closer to the end of that set and I’m starting to feel a little bit of fatigue and then there’s doubt that creeps in because I have not been exposed to three, four hours of tennis for a very long time.
“I dealt with the pressure of the match really well until the end of the third set when I didn’t. But I don’t think there’s many players that would have won that fourth set. A lot of players would have capitulated there and I did the opposite of that.
“When you’re starting the fourth set, having just lost seven games on the spin, and the headlines that you have choked and those sorts of things and it’s one of the worst defeats of your career is what you would have heard after that match had I lost, it’s not easy to turn that round.”
Four years after limping out of Wimbledon following a quarter-final loss to Sam Querrey, Murray returned in singles with expectations severely tempered by ongoing physical issues and a lack of match play.
With Basilashvili an opponent of some calibre and a two-time ATP Tour champion this season, there were fears Murray returning could also be his Wimbledon swansong.
But the 34-year-old has been consistently bullish about his chances of returning to the top of the game if his body cooperates, and the test will now be whether he can back up this match against one of two qualifiers, Oscar Otte or Arthur Rinderknech, who were tied at 9-9 in the fifth when their match was suspended.
It was like old times as Murray walked out in early evening sunshine to a huge roar from the Centre Court crowd, which, although only at 50 per cent capacity, was doing its best to make up for the empty seats.
This was only Murray’s sixth tour-level match this year, with a groin problem having been niggling away since March, and it was clear in his two matches at Queen’s Club that the Scot was rusty.
But some high-level practice sessions, including on Friday with Roger Federer, had given him extra time on court and the difference was noticeable from the start.
Murray’s serve was at a different level to recent times, his movement sharp and his strokes – with a few exceptions – crisp and penetrating.
The roar he gave to the crowd, which reciprocated heartily, after breaking serve to take the opening set was a glorious reminder of times past.
The second set saw Georgian Basilashvili – who is the subject of an ongoing court case in his home country after being accused of domestic violence against his ex-wife, which he denies – threaten the Murray serve but fail to take his opportunities at Wimbledon.
Murray was not so generous when his chance came at 4-3 and from there he gave a demonstration of grass-court tennis of the highest quality, winning seven games in a row to move to the brink of victory before things abruptly changed.
After taking his fourth match point, Murray said: “I kept trying, kept working hard, doing all the right things to get me back in this position. I feel very lucky I get to do it again.
“I keep getting asked if this is going to be my last Wimbledon, last match. No. I’m going to keep playing. I want to play. I’m enjoying it. I can still play at the highest level. He’s ranked 28 in the world. I’ve hardly played any matches and I beat him.”
Heather Watson squanders match point as she makes first round exit
Heather Watson suffered a late night horror show as she tumbled out of Wimbledon to lucky loser Kristie Ahn.
Watson, Britain’s best hope in the women’s singles this fortnight following Johanna Konta’s withdrawal, had her match moved to Court One after rain wrecked the first half of the opening day.
But the 29-year-old fell to a sixth first-round exit in 11th Wimbledon appearances after a three-set marathon finished 2-6 7-6 (3) 8-6 at 10.17pm.
Watson reeled off four games in a row to wrap up the first set, but Ahn, who lost in qualifying but landed a place in the main draw when reigning champ Simona Halep pulled out through injury, broke early in the second.
Watson saved a set point with one punishing forehand and broke back with another to square the set, only for a sloppy tie-break to level the match.
However, with the roof now closed, a pumped-up Watson broke for 5-4 but blew a match point on serve, allowing Ahn to hit back and book a second-round meeting with fellow American Sloane Stephens.
An emotional Watson said: “Obviously I’m really disappointed with the match today.
“I felt like I had so many chances, I just didn’t convert any of them. Even in the third set, I didn’t return well, I made loads of unforced errors and I didn’t back myself in the big moments.
“I fought as hard as I could, but some days your tennis just doesn’t fall together.”
Evans snaps winless run to beat Lopez
Dan Evans snapped a four-match grand slam losing streak to reach the second round of Wimbledon with victory over Feliciano Lopez.
The British number one has had an excellent 18 months on the ATP Tour but the slams have been a different matter, with Evans losing twice in the first round of the French Open and once at the Australian Open since his previous victory in New York last summer.
He made the third round at Wimbledon two years ago and put himself in a strong position to at least match that with a commanding 7-6 (4) 6-2 7-5 success against Lopez.
Lopez may be about to turn 40 but few know their way around a grass court better and he was the champion at Queen’s Club two years ago.
This was a throwback match between two of the best current exponents of grass-court tennis, full of slice backhands and angled volleys.
There was almost nothing to choose between the pair in the first set, with both saving one break point apiece, but it was Evans who stepped up in the tie-break, drilling two topspin backhands to move 4-1 ahead and then winning the final three points after Lopez fought back.
The pressure from Evans told on Lopez, who has played in every grand slam tournament since the French Open in 2002, in the second set, the Spaniard making a succession of unforced errors.
Evans won five games in a row to take it but the third was much closer again and Evans had to dig deep to save two break points at 3-3.
Lopez, who appeared to be struggling with a thigh problem, tried to force a second tie-break but Evans set up a first match point in the 12th game and took it when his opponent pushed a volley long, the British player leaping and punching the air with delight.
Elsewhere at Wimbledon
Wild card Jack Draper stunned Novak Djokovic by taking the first set before bowing out to the defending champion.
The 19-year-old had the crowd on his side but couldn't hold off Djokovic to get through to the next round.
Katie Boulter and Liam Broady also progressed to the second round.
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