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Wimbledon Needs Andy Murray’s Star Power To Fuel Money Machine | Barney Ronay

Time, please. But not just yet. As Andy Murray’s first round hit-about against a game, likable but outmatched Ryan Peniston came to an end after two ruminative hours the Centre Court crowd rose to offer an unusually tender ovation. Not so much a celebration of Murray’s straight-sets victory as a celebration of a generalised Murray-ness, of Wimbledon things, of a distinct place and time, another late-stage episode in this valedictory high summer ritual.

Tennis matches usually conform to a genre. The romp, the struggle, the fistfight. This sport is basically repartee, dialogue, a five-act two-hander. On a bleak and rain-sodden Tuesday the dominant feeling around Centre Court was closer to grateful relief. Well, we still have this, for now.

This was a Wimbledon duvet day. Stewards skirted the puddles, looking for someone to corral. Through late afternoon a blocked drain outside the media room gushed water across a near-deserted walkway, a job, as one wag pointed out, for the gutter press.

With the roof down Centre Court feels a little close and steamy and intimate, like a humid tropical shed. As Murray ranged a little clunkily though his gears there were moments of somnolence in a crowd, a sinking into the seats between the big points, to the extent it was even a little startling to see Murray clench his fist and roar and point at his box for affirmation.

He played with fluency at times en route to a 6-3, 6-0, 6-1 victory, but in the main this felt like a necessary duty being discharged. At the end Murray told the on-court interviewer that he felt “fit and ready for a good run,” doing so, as ever, in the voice of a community policeman telling you that your dog has just been run over, and drawing wild affectionate cheers.

Roger Federer was present in the royal box, another opportunity to gush and fawn over the great smouldering darling of Centre Court. The crowd duly tore its hair and squealed in Federer’s direction as he said something vague about Murray having been “very good”. And in those moments you saw once again how much Wimbledon loves its stars, its self-mythology, its flushed summer love affairs, both out of habit, and as a necessary fuel to keep that vast commercial machine thrumming along.

A packed Centre Court for Andy Murray’s first-round victory against Ryan Peniston. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The GuardianPerhaps this was the real significance here. By the end you could almost hear the tournament organisers breathing out, the TV schedulers ticking off another date. Wimbledon needs Murray’s heritage energy, his star wattage, his ratings pull. The BBC would love him to get through the second round on Thursday, ideally with a late night shriek-athon back on Centre Court. Then back again on Saturday night for a bravura free hit at the second week. That would be enough for the treadmill.

It is a fascinating twist in Murray’s own career arc, the journey from gangling awkward teen to gangling awkward 36-year-old great of the summer game. But the fact is right now Wimbledon needs Murray a little bit more than Murray needs Wimbledon.

Not least this year, which feels already like a strangely low-battery kind of Wimbledon, lukewarm in its story arcs, its sense of sweep and pizazz. Eras come and go in tennis. Right now there is a sense that the stars are falling from the skies, of an interregnum in both women’s and men’s draws. This will reset itself. Carlos Alcaraz is a luminous talent. The women’s game has a deep well of coming talent.

Meanwhile, Wimbledon will continue to churn out its £40m annual profits whatever the action on court looks like. This is essentially a vast hospitality city-state arranged around some well-tended patches of grass. But it is also a star factory, a waxwork museum, a place of annual celebrity pilgrimage. And Novak and Andy are pretty much the last great Easter Island heads still standing form a period of vivid champion talent.

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Murray walked out on court at 3.43pm to an instant ovation. Actually he doesn’t really walk any more, just kind of ambles painfully, the walk of a man constantly treading on Lego blocks. It can be awkward to watch him at times now, like witnessing some venerable engine of war being ratcheted and cranked into gear. It is easy to lose track of the pins and staples and hinges holding Murray together these days, a triumph of will, bravery and the soldering skills of various elite surgeons.

Early on he looked sluggish and pained. This is not a sign of physical decline in itself. He always looks sluggish and pained. He looked sluggish and pained when he was surging towards a destiny-defining Olympic gold medal in 2012. There was a little more snap and vim, the old command of angles, as he eased through the final two sets.

But then, this is his 15th Wimbledon, a journey that began when Andre Agassi and Martina Navratilova were still playing. And not for the first time – how many years has it been now? – Murray is at that point of jeopardy where every game here could be his last, such is his age and injury record.

For now there will at least be one more turn; with a sense in his intensity of purpose, in the muscle memory of the backhand, the old Murray spring in some of his returns, that he isn’t quite ready to let it drop just yet.

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