Another Wimbledon, another late night Andy Murray marathon under the Centre Court roof.
Some things in life, like death and taxes, are guaranteed, as the old saying goes – and you can firmly file these heart-thumping SW19 Murray slugfests under that category.
Once again, the two-time champion at the All England Club summoned all his powers of resilience to battle from behind against Stefanos Tsitsipas, the current world No.5 and two-time Grand Slam finalist, in front of a raucous, increasingly fired-up home crowd and as the nation attempted to watch from either between their fingers – or behind their sofas.
With the match raging long into the night and the 11pm cut-off point looming, the Scot leads 2-1 in sets after clawing back a deficit to set up a tantalising conclusion later today.
Tsitsipas, whose record on grass is patchy and who has never been beyond the fourth round at the All England Club, seized the first after neither player could be separated in a nip-and-tuck hour of tennis.
And after an almost identically closely-contested second under the lights, Murray managed to level the gripping clash and all but guarantee it would going to another day.
The 36-year-old Centre Court veteran grabbed a crucial break in the first game of the third set to finally open up an element of daylight between the pair.
And despite suffering an injury scare when serving for the set, the Scot made a speedy – and firmly relieving – recovery to take the lead and ensure this most quintessentially Murray of matches would reach its conclusion on Friday.
Murray and Tsitsipas may have only met on two occasions but unlike the Greek’s new relationship with women’s player Paula Badosa – the pair share a joint Instagram account – there is nothing cosy about this head-to-head.
Tsitsipas edged a five-set epic at the 2021 US Open in a controversial clash that saw Murray hit out at his opponent’s on-court behaviour.
The three-time Grand Slam champion let rip at his rival for taking a barrage of bathroom breaks and receiving a medical timeout, claiming he’d ‘lost all respect’ for him and later tweeting it takes him ‘twice as long to go to the bathroom as it takes Jeff Bazos to fly into space.’
So after a thrilling Thursday where fellow Brits Liam Broady and Katie Boulter had stormed into the last 32, the atmosphere was electric as Murray took to sport’s most famous postcode just before 8pm.
Broady, the current world No.142 who was awarded a wildcard to this event, had stunned fourth seed Casper Ruud in a remarkable five-setter after Boulter, the current British No.1, had battled past Bulgarian Viktoriya Tomova on Court 12 just moments before.
And that set the stage perfectly for the evening’s main event as Murray, fresh off the back of his thumping 6-3 6-0 6-1 triumph – his most emphatic first round victory in 15 matches at the All England Club – in an all-British battle against Ryan Peniston, bid to go one step further than his second round exit last summer and reach the last 32 of the Championships for just the second time in six years.
Broady’s emotional victory on Centre Court was a tough act to follow but Murray, kicking off proceedings as darkness descended in the capital, looked in one of those moods under the SW19 lights.
The Scot was visibly pumped and, looking to channel as much energy from the jam-packed crowd as possible, safely navigated his way through his first few service games.
But Tsitsipas, whose profile has recently further rocketed owing to his new Spanish girlfriend Badosa – they are competing in the mixed doubles together – was in no mood for any similar second round love-in as he refused to give Murray an inch and the pair slugged it out all the way to a first set tie-break.
Even in that battle, nothing could initially separate the indefatigable duo but the Greek soon grabbed the mini-break to open up three set points.
And despite a rousing rally and Murray miraculously keeping himself in the point, Tsitsipas held firm to seize the set and silence the partisan home crowd.
The second set largely mirrored the first as the fired-up Scot and Tsitsipas, sporting a nostalgically old school, almost Bjorn Borg-esque look with his long hair and in Wimbledon white, continued to hold both their nerve – and serve – with the clock ticking towards 10pm.
The defiant duo played out a remarkable point at four games apiece before Murray, increasingly asking for more from those hardy home fans who’d chosen to stay out late, came close to breaking in the tenth.
But once again, a tense tie-break beckoned as the nerve-jangling encounter looked increasingly unlikely to finish by the 11pm cut-off.
Murray had now moulded into that chuntering, emotional character he so often is in these sort of matches as he continually eyeballed his box and coaching staff to search for additional energy and sources of inspiration.
And it appeared to pay off midway through the second set tie-break, securing a pivotal mini-break to lead 5-2 and put him on the brink of restoring second round parity.
Tsitsipas’ gamble on a backhand dropshot badly backfired and with Murray now sitting on set point, an ace at 6-2 to seal it sent Centre Court into raptures.
Then came the inevitable theatre and Tsitsipas antics as the most recent Australian Open runner-up, memories of that Flushing Meadows marathon two years ago surely still lingering, took an elongated bathroom break and re-emerged to loud boos from the fired-up full house.
So the late night crowd loved it when Murray finally got the reward for his typical tenacity and broke the Greek player at the start of the first set.
The Scot capitalised on another Tsitsipas error into the net to take a 1-0 lead before doubling that advantage and saving two break points himself in the process.
And after holding his serve for the next three games to put himself in pole position at 5-4 up, the 2013 and 2016 champion delivered when it mattered once again to lead in sets for the first time in the match, trigger late night Centre Court ecstasy and ensure this dramatic, gripping and most typically Murray of matches would reach its heart-pounding conclusion on Friday.
For the latest action on the British summer grass court season, check out the LTA website