It was a moment of pure theatre at the end of a day of high drama. On his first match point against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga here yesterday Andy Murray thundered the last of a succession of superb returns of serve. As the ball flew past the Frenchman, Murray dropped his racket in a mixture of relief and joy — only to be told that the line judge had called the shot out.
Murray challenged and the two men stood at the net, waiting for Hawk-Eye's all-seeing cameras to adjudicate. There was a huge smile on the face of Tsonga before the big video screens confirmed that the ball had clipped the line and that Murray's moment of destiny had arrived.
Centre Court erupted and the Scot, fighting back the tears, pointed his fingers to the sky in the celebration that has been his trademark here — and the significance of which he still refuses to explain. After one of the wettest Wimbledons in recent memory, even the sun had come out to mark the occasion.
Past results between the two men had always suggested that Murray would have the edge, but he had to produce some of his best tennis to hold off a resurgent Tsonga in the last two sets. Murray played one loose game — which cost him the third set — but otherwise was a model of consistency and excellence.
The Frenchman, it has to be said, is the ideal opponent for the world No 4, who loves to have a target at the net. If Murray was not smacking passing shots beyond the forward-charging world No 6 he was forcing him into errors by chipping the ball into his feet.
Tsonga served at speeds of up to 140mph, but whenever his first serve missed he was in trouble. Murray won a remarkable 18 out of 20 points on Tsonga's second serve in the opening two sets.
After all the recent rain – which thankfully stopped in time for the match to be played with the roof open – the grass here is still lush and there were occasions when both men lost their feet. Murray, however, looked more assured on the surface, while Tsonga often seemed uneasy.
Much of Tsonga's discomfort was down to the quality of Murray's groundstrokes. The Scot's backhand has long been recognised as one of the best in the game, but on this occasion his forehand was also in magnificent shape. There are occasions when he needs time to feel confident enough to open his shoulders on his less reliable flank but here he was soon ripping forehands low over the top of the net. Murray took the first set in just 34 minutes, having broken in the second game with some splendid attacking play, and won the second even more convincingly, Tsonga winning just two points against serve. By the end of the second set Murray had made just four unforced errors.
Tsonga was moving with increasing difficulty and after the second set had treatment on his back. The trainer who tended to him should seek a pay rise immediately. Tsonga, moving much more freely, went 3-0 up, having broken Murray to love as the Scot played his worst game of the match.
The Frenchman, perhaps recalling that he beat Roger Federer from two sets down here 12 months ago, served out for the set, surviving a nasty moment at the net when Murray drove a ball straight at the Frenchman which hit him in the groin. Tsonga was briefly doubled up in pain and would not have appreciated the humour when a spectator called for 'new balls please'.
Murray, nevertheless, had regrouped admirably. Early breaks were exchanged in the fourth set and both men subsequently saved break points before Tsonga's resistance finally crumbled. Tsonga's post-match verdict was simple. 'He deserved it and that's it,' he said.
All eyes on Murray: Twitter Watch
Murray's win provoked plenty of comment on Twitter:
@damekellyholmes Do you think Murray can and will win Wimbledon this year?? I think this is the perfect year for him #comeonmurray
@GaryLineker Think Murray is stalling so that BBC TV audience builds. Cunning PR strategy from the watching Simon Fuller #COA
@stephenfry Oh I'm all in pieces. You beauty, Andy. I don't mind if you aren't the most cheerful person in tennis
@Joey7Barton I know a lot of people don't like Murray. But I actually like him, mainly down to the fact nobody really likes him