Andy Murray recomposed himself to ensure his Wimbledon singles return ended with a dramatic four-set victory over 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili.
In his first singles match in SW19 since 2017, the two-time champion led 6-4 6-3 5-0 against the Georgian.
The Briton could not convert two match points and wobbled as Basilashvili, 29, fought back to force a fourth set.
After a break to shut the Centre Court roof, Murray returned reinvigorated to win 6-4 6-3 5-7 6-3 under the lights.
There was still more tension at the end of the fourth set, though. Murray was unable to take a third match point when Basilashvili nailed a forehand winner down the line, but clinched victory with the fourth when his opponent hit into the net.
The majority of the home fans leapt to their feet, with a relieved Murray coolly raising his arms in the air before launching into a more manic leap moments later.
“I was really disappointed I had lost the third set and had to remember what I was doing to get into the winning position. I managed to turn it back around,” said Murray, who is now ranked 118th in the world.
The Scot will have a day off playing before his second-round match on Wednesday, knowing he will play a qualifier as Germany’s Oscar Otte or France’s Arthur Rinderknech await him.
The pair saw their match suspended at 21:00 BST because of darkness – with the deciding set delicately poised at 9-9.
It wouldn’t be Andy without the drama
When Murray limped off Centre Court following his 2017 quarter-final defeat by American Sam Querrey, few would have predicted the 2013 and 2016 champion would not play in the singles again until four years later.
That has been a combination of the injury problems which led to him contemplating retirement and the championships being postponed last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While it was not quite like the heady days of old on Centre Court, 34-year-old Murray did offer a reminder to those 7,500 allowed in – and those many more watching at home – of what they have been missing.
From playing smartly, confidently and coasting towards victory, Murray suddenly clammed up and the match took an unexpected turn.
As one woman overheard at the back of Centre Court – along with many more on social media – said while waiting for the fourth set: “It wouldn’t be Andy without some drama, would it?”
The mood in the half-full arena – allowed because Wimbledon is part of the Government’s Event Research Programme – had been buoyant from the start.
Saltire flags, Scottish rugby shirts and tartan hats became more visible as Murray stoked up the atmosphere, with the home fans erupting in celebration at the end of the opening two sets.
“It is amazing to be back out here again on Centre Court. It was such a brilliant atmosphere, I have really missed playing in front of fans,” Murray said.
That joviality continued as he raced away with the third – until tension kicked in when victory loomed.
The enforced break came at a good time for Murray and, watched on throughout by wife Kim and mum Judy, came out reinvigorated in the fourth.
Twice he broke as the pair traded the opening three service games, rediscovering his nerve to survive three more break points and then claim victory at 21:49 BST.
“I did well to win the fourth set in the end because it was not mentally easy going back into the locker room,” he said.
To huge laughter, he added: “I went to the shower and to the toilet – it was just a number one.”
Murray’s performance attracted a lot of attention, leading to Twitter posts from comedian Miranda Hart, First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and Murray’s fitness coach Matt Little which encapsulated the evening’s entertainment.