Andy Murray Changes a Lightbulb

By Giri Nathan

Q: How does 2023 Andy Murray screw in a light bulb?

A: He dives for the socket on the ceiling, misses completely, shatters the light bulb, crawls around for a while in the broken glass, swears and scowls at no one in particular, begins gluing the bulb back together with otherworldly craft and patience, and finally, with a graceful bloodied leap, jams it into the socket, before falling into a heap and thinking about his wife. Also, for some reason, you are now crying.

If this is an emotional experience you seek, then I prescribe to you Murray’s two matches at the Australian Open this week. Worth repeating: 35 years old, metal hip, retired here four years ago. The man has no business gutting out five-setters against robust 26-year-olds without robot parts. In the first round, his opponent was No. 13 seed Matteo Berrettini; in the second, local bro Thanasi Kokkanakis. Both are burly serve-and-forehand pugilists, and both were painstakingly deconstructed by Sir Andy, over five sets, with wild-eyed exertion, the best scrambling defense he’s played in years, and eventual ecstatic triumph, in the middle of the night, before a near-empty stadium. (More on that later.)

Each one offered a different emotional arc. Berrettini came out slumbering. Murray confidently and reproducibly killed him in sets 1 and 2. After that, the real Matteo emerged, at something close to normal strength, and took the third. From there the match was pure service holds and tiebreaks, maxing out the drama. Both players lurched perilously close to victory. Murray barely missed a full diving volley—onto that hip—that would’ve given him match point in the fourth; Berrettini bungled an actual match point in the fifth by putting a sitter into the middle of the net. In the deciding tiebreak, Murray, who’d given himself a bit of a scoreboard cushion, chipped a return off the net cord and was liberated. He was bleeding in two places. It took four hours and 49 minutes.

How could he have anything left for round 2? Kokkinakis didn’t seem keen on giving him a chance to find out. As he took the first two sets and served for the match in the third, the Australian resembled the bruiser he might’ve become earlier in his career, given better injury luck. He didn’t really relent over the next three sets, either. What changed, perhaps, was the movement warming up Murray’s stiff joints, the night cold slowing the courts, the shot selection getting more deliberate. Murray figured out how to tiptoe around his foe’s weapon-grade forehand, and scrapped his way to victory from two sets down, the 11th time he’d done so in his career. That is a record among active players. Murray already knew it—almost as on-brand as the stat itself—and said so during his on-court interview. This match took five hours and 45 minutes. The quality was ridiculous, especially given the hour.

No other sport would allow its most stirring spectacles to conclude at 4 a.m. local, without crowds, and without concessions, the way this second-round match did. Murray railed at the umpire in between the fourth and fifth sets, after she denied him a bathroom break: “It’s so disrespectful that the tournament has us out here until 3, fucking 4 o’clock in the morning and we’re not allowed to take a piss.” Afterward he called the scheduling a “farce.” He’s correct, and any sentient tennis fan would agree: This serves no one.

But the absurd scheduling does, at the very least, deepen the surreality of his stay in Melbourne. Apparently there are no more simple paths available to Murray, who first retired at a press conference at this tournament in 2019, after losing a pulverizing five-setter. His opponent in that match? Roberto Bautista Agut, who, of course, will now be his opponent in the third round, because nothing can be too on the nose anymore, because no emotion will go unplucked while Andy Murray is alive in the draw.

Above: During his match against Thanasi Kokkinakis, Andy Murray says THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word. (Getty)


The New Melbourne
Parq Tee