He brought a metal hip, his granite will and the best of intentions. All well and good, but a helmet would have been of more use to Andy Murray on an evening when he was knocked out of Wimbledon by a vengeful giant firing yellow comets from the sky.
What a brutal way to go, and what a way for his 14th campaign on these lawns to end. He had never before failed to beat John Isner, and for that matter he had never once gone out of this tournament prior the third round.
But all good things come to an end, and we have reluctantly and repeatedly come to think of that when it comes to greatest British tennis player of any generation. Of course, we can see victory in the fact that he is still turning up to the dance, but few other wins were in sight for Murray on Wednesday night.
Former World No.1 Andy Murray crashed out of Wimbledon after losing against John Isner on Wednesday afternoon
The two-time Wimbledon champion was defeated 4-6 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 by the American on Centre Court
Those that presented themselves would be considered the givens. The obvious. We saw him dig in. We saw him fight. We saw him come within a fraction of a hiding and then we saw him come from nowhere in the third set to drip drama into a loss. That’s his way, and it is wonderful to watch.
But still. The more pressing reality is that this was a wide defeat, at once a masterclass and a lesson. The masterclass came from the 20th seed of 6ft and 10ins, who was monstrous with his serve and a delight at the age of 37 for the lesser-heralded gifts of his craft. He didn’t just pummel Murray, he out-played him at the back of the court and the front, in rallies and with his soft touches at the net.
He won’t have delivered many better performances in the past two decades, certainly not in the deafening backyard of opposition. Blimey, he gave up just two break points all night, in the fourth game, and saved both. After that, Murray didn’t have a sniff, barring the tiebreak he won in the third.
Two-time champion Murray failed to reach the third round of Wimbledon for the first time in his career
Murray had won every other encounter, all eight times, with the American prior to defeat in Wimbledon’s second round
And that takes us to the lesson. For Murray, it went as much for the numerical markers of defeat as it did the limits of his future ambitions. If he no longer has the faculties to win on his favourite court against an older man he had beaten eight times from eight, then we can further harden the assumption we already had – that the clock will be forever stopped at three Slams.
But where is the fun in only viewing sport through victory alone? Where is the point in seeing such a technicolour gem as Murray in black and white terms? Goodness, the response he elicited on Centre Court for his third-set comeback alone was a testament to what a treasure he is in this country. His tribulations, even in defeat, are among the very richest sights in sport, so we should just enjoy it while we can.
For now, aged 35, and living in an eroded body, he isn’t calling time. That’s a relief. With frustration carved into his face after three hours and 23 minutes of grinding, he said: ‘I feel disappointed right now. Obviously I wanted to do well here – I love playing at Wimbledon, a surface I feel I can still compete with the best guys on. It definitely, definitely hurts.’
The Scottish player fought valiantly to win the third set and prevent a whitewash – but was unable to overturn the deficit
Isner, who has garnered a reputation for his impressive shot power, served 36 aces throughout the match
He added: ‘If physically I’m in a good place, yeah, I will continue to play. But it’s not easy to keep my body in optimal condition to compete at the highest level.’
Maybe he would have gone further had he not suffered an abdominal injury earlier this month which kept him from practise for 10 days. That seems a decent straw to clutch at, and he did, saying: ‘I could have had a good run here. Had I got through, who knows what would have happened.’
We will never know.
For Isner, who will naturally be overlooked through our British prism, this was a huge win, built on 36 aces and 81 winners. ‘At 37, it was much easier 10 years ago for sure, but I work my ass off to try to give myself opportunities like that. It kind of makes it all worth it.’
He was positively beaming and well he might. He took the first set 6-4 in 40 minutes, with a break for 2-1 secured by threading a backhand through the tiniest of corridors up the line. That was the finesse and there would be so much more of it.
As for the force, that came in the next game, when Murray had his only chances to break in the entire match. Witness what happened after the second of the Scot’s two break points – a 128mph ace for deuce, a 126mph ace for advantage and a 134mph service winner for the hold.
Murray was full of emotion throughout the day as he fought hard to keep himself in the match against Isner
After that missed opportunity, Murray scarcely had another. His movement was fine and his error count was low, just 13 for the whole gig. But his serving was way off, particularly in the first two sets, and his groundstrokes were scruffy and too often short of the lines.
Only in the third did his game rise, bringing the crowd up with him as he won the tiebreak 7-3, having lost one for the second. They went into the fourth and that brief bit of momentum ran out – he was broken for 3-2 and under the now-closed roof the music finally stopped.
Hopefully it will be switched back on before long.