Britain’s Andy Murray maintained his record of never losing in the first round at Wimbledon with an encouraging victory over Australia’s James Duckworth.
After a slow start, likely as a result of a recent abdominal injury, Murray found his rhythm and his quality shone through.
The former world number one, now ranked 52nd, won 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 at 21:35 BST under the floodlights on Center Court.
The 35-year-old Scotsman will now face 20th-seeded American John Isner in the second round on Wednesday.
“It’s amazing to be back here with a packed crowd,” said Murray, a two-time Wimbledon champion.
“I’m improving a little bit now, so I don’t know how many chances I’ll have here.
“I’m glad I made it through and hope to have another game here at Center in a couple of days.”
Murray allays injury concerns by encouraging performance
Questions had been raised all week about Murray’s fitness and he responded with more than a hint of doubt last Monday when he revealed that he hadn’t been able to hit specific shots, which was believed to be the serve.
An abdominal injury sustained in the Stuttgart final earlier this month had stalled his progress in an encouraging grass-court season and prevented him from playing for the Queen’s Club.
But as the week progressed, and he was seen in practice sessions at Wimbledon hitting serves, it seemed clear that he would be fit to return to the stage of his best wins.
Of course, the intensity of a match is a different circumstance than practice and it took him a little while to find the rhythm of it with his serve.
But once he did, Murray seemed completely at ease against world number 74 Duckworth.
“The abdomen felt absolutely fine today,” said Murray, who added another scan this week that showed the injury had healed.
While it wasn’t classic Murray, there were plenty of quality moments to keep the enthusiastic home crowd entertained.
There was even a chance for Murray to hit an underarm serve, rarely seen during his career, in the third set to elicit laughter from the fans.
But the main takeaway for those who stayed late was that the 2013 and 2016 champion, a dangerous unseeded floater in the draw, looks fit enough to cause trouble for more opponents this fortnight.
Murray changes gear to win
Murray’s slow start allowed Duckworth to successfully implement his intended plan of playing aggressively and dictating the points.
With Murray often left scurrying around, he blasted a forehand into the net for break point at 4-4 and Duckworth took it with a rough forehand winner to leave him serving for the set.
Another shot from that flank sealed the first goal for the Australian, leaving the home crowd on Center Court murmuring in surprise at him.
Murray began to land more first serves in the second set, giving him the platform to quickly put pressure on Duckworth again.
Murray only lost two points in his service games, helped by landing more first serves and winning 100% of those points.
His return game also began to improve, and Murray highlighted that as a key factor in the change.
Like Murray, Duckworth also saw his career hampered by injuries and underwent hip surgery earlier this year.
Since he returned in May, he had only played eight matches, losing six of them, and adrenaline alone would never be enough to win a five-set Grand Slam match.
Murray’s superior quality continued to shine through in the third, dominating to move into a 4-1 lead before digging deep to remove the pressure in his next service game.
With the court getting darker, Duckworth wanted the roof to close and the lights to come on, but he had to wait until Murray finished the third set.
The fourth set was delicately balanced with no breaks until two Duckworth double faults at 4-4 allowed Murray to pull out the victory.