Forget Saturday night at the movies. A packed Centre Court crowd revelled in Saturday night at the tennis here yesterday as Andy Murray beat Marcos Baghdatis 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in a third-round contest that had everything you would have wanted from a sporting occasion.
For Murray it was a battle against both a spirited opponent and the clock. He won in three hours and 13 minutes, but if the match had lasted one more game the two men would have had to return tomorrow to complete it.
From the second set onwards the match was played under the retractable roof because of the fading light, but the All England Club's licence requires play to finish at 11pm. Murray broke serve to lead 5-1 in the fourth set just as the clock struck 11pm, but they played one more game, enabling the Scot to book his place in the second week of the tournament for a sixth time. In tomorrow's fourth round he will meet Croatia's Marin Cilic, the world No 18.
The late finish was only part of the drama. There were changes of momentum, both players suffered falls and Murray even had a problem with balls falling out of his pocket during points. It was a contest of two distinct halves. The match started in cold and windy conditions, but finished with no wind under the warmth of the roof. Because of the conditions Murray in particular played cautiously in the first two sets, but once the roof was closed he was much more aggressive.
Murray might have finished the match earlier but for his failure to take his chances. The world No 4 forced 23 break points in the match but took only six of them. "I was very nervous today," Murray admitted afterwards. "I knew it was going to be a tough match. It was breezy conditions. I was slicing a lot of backhands and just hustling my way through the match. I'm going to need to play better and a bit more freely, like I did at the end of the match, if I want to go further in the tournament."
The match did not start until 7.12pm, at which time the court was already in shade and the temperature dropping quickly. With a stiff breeze swirling around Centre Court the conditions were a challenge for both players. The grass was also becoming damp and Murray suffered the first of a number of falls midway through the first set.
When Murray served at 3-4 Baghdatis forced two set points, both of which the Scot saved in spectacular fashion, first with an audacious drop shot and then with a running forehand winner which just caught the back of the baseline. At 5-5 it was Murray's turn to force two break points. Baghdatis saved the first with a service winner, but on the second Murray forced the Cypriot into a forehand error.
Murray served out for the set in confident fashion, winning it with a stop volley winner followed by an ace, and when he broke again in the third game of the second set it seemed that he was firmly in control. However, just when the Scot needed to drive home his advantage he started to play more cautiously.
Baghdatis quickly took advantage. After a double fault by Murray had handed the world No 42 a break back to 2-2, the two men played the best game of the match. Murray forced six break points, but Baghdatis saved every one of them. The Cypriot, a broad smile on his face after some thrilling rallies, was clearly starting to enjoy the challenge. He broke again to take a 4-2 lead and served out for the set to level the match.
With the light fading, Andrew Jarrett, the referee, decided to close the roof and the players left the court. The All England Club has always insisted that it wants Wimbledon to remain an outdoor day-time tournament, but this was the fourth night in a row that play has finished under cover and under lights. By the time the match restarted at 9.40pm – the delay is largely because of the time it takes the air management system to kick in – the break had lasted for 35 minutes.
Murray, who emerged with his left knee taped following his latest tumble, appeared to be in a more positive frame of mind and in the fourth game of the third set forced two more break points. However, Baghdatis saved them both and went on to break in the following game.
With Murray in some discomfort from his knee the signs were not looking good, particularly when the Scot failed once again to take a chance to break back for 3-3.
To his great credit, however, Murray maintained his new-found aggression and from 2-4 down turned the match around with some superb attacking tennis, winning 11 of the next 13 games. Having broken back to 4-4, he broke again to take the third set 7-5.
The momentum was now with Murray, who broke again in the second game of the fourth set. By now the clock was ticking. Murray had seen a notice displayed on the screen saying that the match had to finish at 11pm. When he went 4‑1 up the umpire told him that only one more game would be possible, but after breaking yet again to go 5‑1 up was relieved to be told that he could play another game.
Murray served out to love to complete his victory at 11.02pm, the latest finish in Wimbledon history.
"It was tough conditions," Murray said. "I was really struggling. Even in the first couple of sets I was creating a lot of chances but I wasn't feeling that comfortable on the court. It was very windy and he was coming in a lot. I had a lot of break points and when I wasn't getting them the momentum was going with him. I was getting 0‑30 chances and just couldn't quite make the breakthrough. I struck the ball better and served better under the roof."
He added: "It was a tricky first week. I had a tough draw. The matches are going to get tougher and I need to play better, like I did in the last set and a half of that match.
"It was always going to be tough today after playing against [Ivo] Karlovic. This was a very different match and I struggled to get in a rhythm. Hopefully I'll play better in the second week."