A lot has happened in the professional life of Andy Murray since the first time he and Taipei’s Yen-Hsun Lu stared down at each other from opposite ends of a tennis court. It was in Beijing at the 2008 Olympic Games and the British No.1 lost their first-round match in straight sets. Afterwards he described himself as “unprofessional”.
Murray had flown to the Chinese capital straight from winning his maiden Masters Series title in Cincinnati, via London, and had not given himself sufficient time in which to prepare for what was even then a major target for him. When he weighed himself after the match – instead of before it, as he should have done – he discovered he had lost four and a half kilos since his arrival in China.
If the two men haven’t crossed paths recently, Lu will be rubbing his eyes in disbelief when he claps eyes on Murray today during the knock-up for their second-round match on No.1 Court. These days the British No.1 is quite a unit and arguably one of the best prepared players on the Tour, thanks to a dedicated support team.
In the intervening five years – it’s hard to believe it’s been that long - Murray has won 21 more titles, including the US Open and that elusive Olympic Games gold medal. Now he’s in pursuit of the biggest prize of all – even if he did once suggest that a gold medal was more important than a Grand Slam!
Lu, who is at his happiest on hard courts, denied the home crowd an all-British affair by beating the Londoner James Ward in four close sets in the first round. His match with Murray this time is likely to be about as one-sided as the straight sets win for the Scot at Indian Wells earlier this year. Lu didn’t sound too confident about the outcome on Monday. “If you're asking me right now do I expect to beat him, I say not,” he said.
The unscheduled defeat of the No.5 seed Rafael Nadal on Monday has removed a major obstacle from Murray’s path to the title, but there remains, of course, another considerable stumbling block in the shape of Roger Federer. The champion plays the final match on Centre Court today against the Ukranian Sergiy Stakhovsky, who, coincidentally, was Murray’s opponent when he won what was probably his first important title – the junior US Open in 2004.
Stakhovsky has a funny habit of running off to his tennis bag and grabbing his camera to take a picture of any disputed line calls, but with Hawk-Eye in operation on Centre Court that isn’t likely to be an issue. Besides, he will probably have his hands full trying to picture his next move against the 17-time Grand Slam champion.
The pick of the matches on Centre Court, however, could be an anticipated slugfest between the No.6 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the similarly hard-hitting Latvian Ernests Gulbis. The Frenchman leads the head-to-heads 3-0 but the last two meetings have been close.
If a nice contrast in styles is your predilection then look no further than the final match on Court 12 where the rejuvenated baseliner Tommy Robredo, of Spain, takes on France’s Nicolas Mahut, who is about as near to a serve-and-volley player as it’s possible to get these days.
The seeded Robredo made a remarkable run to his fifth French Open quarter-final this year at the age of 32, three times coming from two sets down while Mahut was a co-star with John Isner in Wimbledon’s famous 11-hour marathon production of three years ago. Expect a long one. Murray, who is likely to face the winner, will certainly hope so.
All eyes will be on Victoria Azarenka’s physical condition when the second seed opens the day’s play on Centre Court against Flavia Pennetta. If the Belarus woman does have any fitness issues after her nasty fall in the first round expect the experienced Italian to take full advantage.
Azarenka has reached the semi-final stage in each of the last two years. Last year it was Serena Williams who halted her progress and the year before it was, somewhat surprisingly, Petra Kvitova. The Czech Republic girl went on to take the title that year but since then has struggled a little to consolidate that success, slipping from No.2 in the rankings to No.8.
She made hard work of her first-round match against a player ranked 100 spots beneath her and will need to be on her game against the athletic Kazakhstan player Yaroslava Shvedova, the daughter of an international ultra marathon champion, who pushed Williams all the way in their fourth-round match last year.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all