It took Andy Murray a little while – it was the best part of two hours before we could be really sure – but he did it in the end.
He re-elected himself to a tournament of growing brilliance that at one point threatened to pass him by.
After five days of invention, and bristling self-belief from his dominating rivals Rafa Nadal, reigning champion, Roger Federer, player of the ages, and the relentless innovator Novak Djokovic, Murray came under hard pressure to make a statement of his own.
This had to be about nerve and survival against the 32-year-old Croat Ivan Ljubicic, who through a long day of waiting for the action had lurked in the Centre Court shadows with the threat of ambush.
The man who was once ranked third in the world – and has amassed more than £5m of prize money – certainly did not shirk his designated role as a potential assassin of Murray's best hopes of gaining a foothold in the club of three which had been setting such daunting standards through the first week.
He broke Murray in each of the first two sets and in the second he made it count. After an hour and 24 minutes the man from yesterday had brought crisis to the Scot's belief that at 24 he was indeed ready to make his most significant push for a Grand Slam triumph. Of course Murray inevitably produced moments of brilliance, sometimes making the shaved-headed veteran look relatively arthritic. But if we had the best of Murray, once again we had some of the worst of him at a time when his obligation as a serious contender could not hardly have been placed more clearly on the line.
When Ljubicic drew level at one set all there was the nightmare prospect of the kind of disintegration that destroyed Murray in the Australian Open final against Djokovic at the start of the year. The rhythm of his game was broken and when the Croat delivered an ace timed at 132mph there was the old dread that Murray might again lose himself in a fever of frustration. Certainly he returned to the habit that we had been told would dwindle with a new level of self-confidence, the bellowing and gesticulating aimed at an entourage suddenly enveloped in their worst fears.
Yet if these are frequently among the least uplifting sights and sounds at the highest level of the game, their effect is sometimes beneficial – at least in places this side of the pinnacles of the game. Against Ljubicic it was certainly sufficient to draw from Murray some of his annoyance – and some understanding that it was time for him to produce more than a spasmodic ebb and flow of brilliance and breakdown.
Murray produced enough of the former, however, to carry him into the fourth round – and a revived chance to finally make a winning impact at the top of the game. Yet all the time there was a sub-text that just could not be relegated – and certainly seemed to show on the face of his mother and cheerleader, Judy.
It was the question about whether this is really the kind of modus operandi guaranteed to one day get the better of the three rivals who between them have accumulated a total of 27 Grand Slam titles. Murray's talent is constantly re-stated in the great tournaments. But then so are the frailities – and maybe the explanation why his talent has taken him to three Grand Slam finals without any sense that he has made the best of himself.
Last night it was the same story against an opponent who for all his old and workable instincts, his ability to produce serves of stunning power and accuracy at vital moments, and a sometimes startling touch around the net, should never have been allowed to bring back all the worst of the turmoil of Murray's career. Ljubicic is a fine and accomplished player and perhaps he might just have become one with serious pretensions to greatness.
But greatness never happened for him and this was the painful reality that could not be ignored, whatever the final result, in the fourth set which Murray allowed to hang by a thread.
You could not imagine – it has to be said yet again– a Federer, a Nadal or a Djokovic allowing their fate to slide into such peril. Not after establishing a point of such control. Not after emerging from a crisis largely of their own making.
If they had any raging to do in such circumstances, you have to believe, it would have been done directly to themselves.
This, though, is something that Murray can reflect upon for a little while now after his survival in a gut-wrenching fourth set tie-break. The Briton survived, at the finish, because of a superior range of skill, a potential to make winners of the highest quality.
What he didn't do – again – was produce the authority of someone who believes utterly in his ability – and his right to win. Certainly it is not easy to imagine a Murray in this frame of mind making the great leap of his career next week. The talent is beyond question, but not the will – not the understanding that there are certain times when all doubt has to be expelled.
Last night should have been a statement of renewed ambition and authority.
It should have said that Murray is ahead ready to take his place beside the great men of this tournament. Unfortunately, it was less than this. It was a stride towards another uncertain possibility – a challenge presented by players who, you have to say, have moved further down to road to the winning of the great prizes.
Andy Murray is still alive. But can he live on in such a rarefied atmosphere? It is a question which can provoke only a new burst of doubt.
C'mon Tim: The vuvuzela of Wimbledon 2011
By Robin Scott-Elliot
By and large, Middle England minded its manners last night. Andy Murray announced he was not amused by cries of "C'mon Tim" that have accompanied his performances at Wimbledon and his invoking of Queen Victoria appears to have had the desired effect on her former subjects.
During his last match the first cry came four minutes in. Last night he took to Centre Court at 6.45pm. A semi-standing ovation rippled round the crowd. "C'mon, Ivan," bellowed a voice that may well have been heard across whichever home county it was nurtured in. She tried again a minute later.
Then as Murray prepared to open the match, it came. A deep, male voice. "C'mon, Tim." The vuvuzela of Wimbledon 2011. But it wasn't that loud and nor was it accompanied by any of the tittering that has so stirred the Scot's irritation. Murray's response; ace, ace.
And that was about as bad as it got. The "C'mon Andy"s won the night as convincingly as he did, although during the second set, as his form temporarily deserted him, it became more "C'mon, Murray" as fear invoked formality, a curiously English response. But soon all were friends again, the Saltires began to pop up alongside the Union flags, Murray was Andy again and Tim was nowhere to be seen or, more importantly, heard.Reuse content