Andy Murray opens against David Goffin and appears to have little to trouble him in the early rounds but Rafael Nadal believes these stages make Wimbledon “the most dangerous tournament” in the world
It is no longer 77 years since a British man won the Gentlemen’s Singles title at The Championships. Andy Murray’s enthralling victory on this court last year will live long in the memories of all those who witnessed it. And who’s to say that the Scot cannot successfully defend his title just as Fred Perry did in 1935 and ’36?
Murray said that when he walks out on Centre Court today, to an ovation that would probably lift the roof off of Centre Court if it were closed, he expects to feel “pride, pressure and also some nerves”. But as Novak Djokovic, his opponent in last year’s final, generously pointed out, this meticulously manicured little patch of turf in SW19 is now his domain. It was once Roger Federer’s; now it’s Andy Murray’s.
“I expect him to do well because he hasn’t lost a match on Wimbledon Centre Court for a long time now,” said Djokovic, who also plays on Centre Court on the opening day. “Winning the Olympic Games and Wimbledon definitely helped his character, helped his mental strength, and I think he shouldn’t feel that much [pressure].”
Murray - who opens his defence against David Goffin, of Belgium - and Djokovic are in the same half of the draw, which is to the advantage of neither man. But at least the early rounds, which Rafael Nadal believes make Wimbledon “the most dangerous tournament” in the world, don’t look too troublesome.
Djokovic’s opponent Andrey Golubev, of Kazakhstan, could be as tricky as it gets for him until the later stages of the tournament. The Russian-born player defeated Stan Wawrinka, the Australian Open champion, in a Davis Cup tie in April, but has lost his last nine matches on grass and, of course, this year Djokovic has the three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker in his corner.
Seeded players are definitely at risk, though, none more so, perhaps, than the 18th seed Fernando Verdasco, of Spain, who faces Marinko Matosevic. The Australian defeated Marin Cilic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on his way to reaching the quarter-finals of the Aegon Championships at The Queen’s Club a fortnight ago and was runner-up at Nottingham shortly before that.
With five of Britain’s six men competing today (in Perry’s day more than a third of the 128 main draw were British) hopes will be high of some home success, but expectation must be tempered by the knowledge that some of the foreign opposition knows its way around these courts as well if not better than they do – Mikhail Youzhny, the 17th seed, for example, who plays James Ward on No.3 Court. It might surprise some people to learn that only four players in the draw have scored more wins on grass than the Russian veteran.
The bottom half of the ladies’ draw may lack marquee names like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, but, as always, interest in the No.2 seed and three-time quarter-finalist Li Na will be immense. She and Paula Kania, of Poland, follow Murray and Goffin on to Centre Court. More equal match-ups that intrigue are the first and last on Court 18: Sloane Stephens, the 18th seed, against Maria Kirilenko, and Svetlana Kuznetsova against the young Portuguese Michelle Larcher De Brito, who brought Sharapova’s Wimbledon to an abrupt halt last year.
Murray is unlikely to corner the market on ovations. Expect a big one, too, for the five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams on No.2 Court. The 34-year-old American missed last year’s Championships because of the auto-immune disease Sjogren's syndrome, but has squeezed two singles titles Nos 44 and 45 into her bulging trophy cabinet this year, including the prestigious Dubai one in February. She needs to be on her guard, though, against the big-hitting young Spaniard Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.
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...
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