Andy Murray heads to Wimbledon hoping to turn back the tennis clock exactly a decade on from his most storied of British sporting triumphs.
Ten years ago this month, the Scot secured an emotional, long-awaited SW19 crown to finally banish his Centre Court demons and become the first player to clinch the title on home soil since Fred Perry in 1936.
But ten years is a long time in tennis and now, aged 36 and firmly in the twilight of his glittering career, Murray gets his 15th Wimbledon campaign underway flying increasingly under the radar after his long-term hip injury and with the eyes of the world now transfixed on the next generation of Grand Slam talent.
Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner and Holger Rune are some of the international stars spearheading the youth-fuelled charge as Murray, fresh off the back of two impressive grass-court titles at Surbiton and Nottingham, looks to roll back the years and somehow find a way of emulating his glorious summers of 2013 and 2016.
It certainly won’t be easy.
Alcaraz, who has remarkably just turned 20, soared back to the summit of the world rankings after his imperious Queen’s triumph while Novak Djokovic, born just seven days after Murray but still the overwhelming favourite for this event, continues to push the boundaries of individual physical longevity.
And then there is Sinner, 21, Rune, 20, and the more established likes of Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev, all of whom remain poised to pose a significant All England Club threat.
The Australian and French Opens have been and gone as Djokovic, an ever-divisive figure who has recently left much of his major tournament eligibility on a knife-edge owing to his refusal receive a coronavirus vaccine, grabbed his 22nd and 23rd Grand Slam titles to leapfrog Rafael Nadal at the top of the all-time men’s table.
Now it’s time for Wimbledon to take centre stage as one of the highlights of another sizzling sporting summer, and Djokovic has history in his sights.
An eighth Wimbledon title will see the Serbian equal Roger Federer’s men’s record of eight singles crowns, while Grand Slam number 24 will match Margaret Court’s all-time record. He would also be 75% of the way to a Calendar Grand Slam, not seen since Steffi Graf in 1988.
The first-round draw was done on Friday and served up some intriguing opening battles.
Murray, who was unable to secure a seeding after suffering a straight sets defeat against Alex de Minaur – boyfriend of British women’s No.1 Katie Boulter – at Queen’s earlier this month, will face a tough test in the battle of the Brits against Ryan Peniston, who reached the second round last year after impressive runs to the Queen’s and Eastbourne quarter-finals in consecutive weeks.
The last time Murray kicked off his Wimbledon campaign against a fellow Brit – Liam Broady in 2016 – he went on to the lift the trophy, but he will need to navigate his way through a box office second round clash against either Tsitsipas, the world No.5, or former US Open champion Dominic Thiem if he is to have any chance of doing so once again.
Top seed Alcaraz comes up against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy, seven-time champion Djokovic gets his title defence underway against Argentinian Pedro Cachin while elsewhere, Britain’s leading men Cam Norrie – a beaten SW19 semi-finalist against Djokovic last year – and Dan Evans do battle with Tomas Machac and Quentin Halys respectively.
Murray, the current world No.39, will take to the Centre Court stage on Tuesday and admits he’s relishing his newfound role away from the spotlight as eyeballs pivot towards the planet’s rising stars.
“Nowadays it’s alright,” he said.
“Ten years ago, it was a little bit different.
“A little bit more expectation, pressure, those sorts of things – it’s actually been okay.
“The last few weeks have been fairly low-key. Obviously I get to spend a lot of time with my family so it’s quite easy to switch off from the tennis.”
Murray was back in grass court action at the capital’s salubrious Hurlingham Club last week where he suffered a straight sets defeat against red-hot Rune, the current world No.6.
And the former British No.1, who succumbed to big-serving American John Isner in the second round at Wimbledon last year, added: “This is the first time in a long while I’ve played that many matches in a short period of time.
“I’m very match sharp, match tight going into Wimbledon.”
The tournaments kicks off under a backdrop of fears over the threat of protesters breaking onto the All England Club’s pristine grass courts, with organisers on red alert after Just Stop Oil’s high-profile intervention during day one of the second Ashes Test at Lord’s this week.
Jonny Bairstow carried one intruder off the Home of Cricket outfield on that occasion and, in response to that incident, Wimbledon have urged players not to ‘do a Bairstow’ and emulate the antics of England’s no-nonsense wicket-keeper.
Norrie, the current world No.13, said: “It could happen and hopefully it happens at the best moment possible to me to break the rhythm [of my opponent]!
“But it is what it is and I’ll have to deal with it and it’s been happening more and more so let’s see.”
The women’s draw is similarly well-poised with several British stars looking to spring a shock after a stunning collective start to the grass court season – and in the absence of the injured Emma Raducanu.
Boulter, 26, clinched her maiden WTA title in Nottingham with an all-British triumph against Jodie Burrage, Katie Swan reached the final in Surbiton and Harriet Dart will be hoping to go even deeper than her second round appearance last year.
But in doing so she will need to topple some of women’s game’s international big-hitters, with ice-cool Kazakh Elena Rybakina looking to defend her 2022 title and top seed Iga Swiatek – the clay queen and French Open champion in 2020, 2022 and 2023 – in pursuit of her fifth Grand Slam title.
With no Raducanu, Boulter will be the unequivocal British female face at this year’s Championships after her stunning recent rise to world No.88.
And the Leicester ace, who takes on Australian Daria Saville in the first round, said: “I feel like I’m playing some brilliant tennis.
“I practiced unbelievably well every single day this week – I’m very happy with where I am.”
For the latest action on the British summer grass court season, check out the LTA website