It was late when Andy Murray finally made it out on to Centre Court for his match against Denis Shapovalov, and the clouds were just closing in over the last little patch of blue sky left over Wimbledon.

There were two lads out in the crowd on Henman Hill who were weighing up their options. It was a hard-won spot, the hill was so busy they’d closed it off, but they were thinking of giving it up. They’d had a good day of it, done a little too much drinking, caught a touch too much sun. “You up for making a move after these?” one said, waggling his beer. “Let’s give it another minute,” his mate replied, “see if it stays this one-sided.”

By the time they’d emptied their glasses, Murray was 5-1 down. Shapovalov was playing pitiless tennis, and had broken Murray’s serve twice already. Shapovalov, 22, ranked 10th in the world, is the coming man, and playing like he wanted to prove it.

He was quick, spry and agile, moved around the court with an ease and speed that made Murray look a little plodding and leaden-footed. Murray slipped and stumbled, swore to himself. On the hill they cried “C’mon Andy” in that way they do. It wasn’t in hope, or expectation, just appreciation for him, and for all the entertainment he’s given them in the years he’s been playing here.

The lads were just gathering themselves to “beat the traffic” when Murray broke Shapovalov back to make it 5-3. They stopped, sat back down again, unable to tear themselves away just yet. Shapovalov had never played Murray before, and that showed in the mistake he made against him here.

He got complacent, let his focus slip, his attention drift, and Murray pounced, won eight points in a row, pulled the score back to 5-4. The two lads were rooted to the ground now, going nowhere. Murray had one break point, a second, a third. Those shouts of “C’mon Andy” got a little more urgent. But Shapovalov had snapped back into the match, and he closed the set out.

Shapovalov screamed in celebration after that. And they cheered out on the hill, too, even though their man had lost, because what more do they want from Murray, at this point? No one thinks he has another championship in him, no one expected him to make a run to the final, no one even really believed he was likely to win this one match, given how little tennis he’s played in the last year, and how hard he had to graft to make it through the first two rounds earlier this week.

But he showed a little of that true grit of his, gave them another little glimpse of the resilience, and character, that made him such a great player in his day.

It wasn’t enough, or anything like it. Not against a player as hungry, sharp and talented as Shapovalov. He didn’t make the same mistake again, and since Murray didn’t have much more to give than he already had, the next two sets were far more straightforward. It wound up 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

But, of course, those two fellas on the hill ended up staying right up to the end anyway, traffic be damned. They filed out along with everyone else in the dark of the evening, babbling to each other about what a great day it had been, wondering whether it just might be an idea to stop and find a spot where they could get one for the road on the way home.

They enjoyed themselves. Murray didn’t. What are his expectations now? The game’s already all but retired him once, after he lost in the first round of the Australian Open in 2019, and here he is, two years and one hip replacement surgery later, busting a gut to prove that he can still do it, even though he’s not sure he really can.

“If I’m going to put that much effort in I want to be performing better than I did here,” Murray said afterwards. He was frustrated that his game wasn’t as sharp as he wanted even after he’s worked so hard at it. His body’s not strong enough to allow him to do the amount of match practice he needs to get back to where he wants to be.

“It was great playing in front of the crowds again, I mean, I got amazing support here and I’m very thankful for that. It’s something I have missed and it kind of reminds you why you do all of the work, but then there is a part of me that feels a bit like I have put in so much work the last three months and, you know, ultimately I didn’t play how I would want and expect, and it’s like, is it worth it?”

He’s said before he’s going to carry on because he loves doing it, but you wonder how long the love will last if he keeps losing.