Andy Murray’s glorious return to SW19, his first public appearance here since winning gold and silver at the London Olympics, was the talk of the town. Actually, it seemed to be the talk of every town in the country.
Forget Murray’s nerves - it was the blood pressure of the watching nation that was the problem on the opening day of Wimbledon.
It was not that the world No.2 was in any sort of bother against Benjamin Becker – he skipped through his first challenge 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, no worries there – it was just that for the first time, the local faithful are not just hoping for a British champion, they truly believe that in Murray, they have a Wimbledon winner in waiting. And if that doesn’t set the pulses racing, nothing will.
Judging by the wall-to-wall TV, radio and newspaper coverage of the big event, it did seem that there was only one player in the draw and the start of Andymonium prompted one, esteemed American colleague to rename the 127th Championships upon the Lawns of The All England Club “The Andy Murray Invitational”. Yes, we Brits do get over-excited when we have a winner on our hands.
The great man stepped out to play around teatime. As he strode on to Centre Court, the cheer went up and the crowd rose to its feet. This was not a standing ovation but, rather, a chance for everyone to get a quick snap of the Olympic and US Open champion before the real business of the day began. The court may have been half empty during the warm-up but that was only because the lucky ticket holders had been glued to their seats for more than three-and-a-half hours watching Roger Federer and then Maria Sharapova. Time for a five-minute break and a cup of tea before the Muzz got to work.
But as the crowd raced back to see their boy, they were instantly reassured – Murray confident, controlled and looking every inch a title contender. He began well, threw in one sloppy game to drop his serve but then, pouncing at the end of the first two sets, took the match by the scruff of the neck. Two sets to the good, he relaxed a little, played even better and was home and hosed in a little under two hours. Cue obvious delight among his team and joyous relief in the stands: Andy’s campaign was off and running.
So just what did the world No.2, the home-grown hero and the nation’s favourite son, think of his day’s work? How was he dealing with the excitement, the expectation and the knowledge that a small island packed with 60 million desperate souls will be watching his every move for the coming fortnight? As it turned out, he was taking it all in his stride.
“It was a good start,” Murray said calmly. “He's a tough player. I thought it was a pretty high standard match, apart from a few games in the middle of the first set. We had a lot of good rallies. He served well for the first couple of sets. And, yeah, it was a good start.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself. I expect a lot of myself. So, the other stuff that kind of goes with it, it doesn't really matter. It matters what's going on in my head, what I'm feeling while I'm on the court. And I think I've done a good job of putting that other stuff to the back of my head and just concentrate on what's going on out there. That's going to be there for the rest of my career; it’s something that all players at the top of the game have to deal with.”
There were a few ooh-and-ahh moments – Murray’s first double fault (there were only two of them) was met by one of the communal groans that can only be heard around these parts but his first break point was greeted like a match point. But by the time the first set was wrapped up, the only gasps to be heard were in response to the Rafael Nadal score that flashed up on the scoreboard during the change of ends. Murray was cruising into the second round and all was well with the world.
There was not a sign of the back injury that had ruined Murray’s clay-court season and he barely seemed to have broken step from winning the Aegon Championships at Queen’s Club a little over a week ago. Watched from the Royal Box by his best friend, Ross Hutchins (who, incidentally, was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dr Condoleezza Rice, Pippa Middleton and Denise Lewis), he kept banging in the winners (38 of them, including 11 aces) and kept the errors, just 16 of them, to a minimum. This was good stuff against a man who knew his way around a grass court.
So Murray is into his stride in SW19, a nation can rest easy at night and we have two weeks of Andymonium to look forward to. It had been a cracking start to the Andy Murray Invitational.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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