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Murray produces some heroics on and off the court

by Kate Battersby
Wednesday 25 June 2014

Andy Murray will have known tougher days at the office than his second-round match against Blaz Rola on No.1 Court. The splendidly named Slovenian, world ranked No.92, declared with some understatement before the match that it would be a “very, very big shock” if he won.

That prospect was so distant throughout this encounter that when he managed to win a game in the second set to make the scoreline 1-5, he broke into a wide smile and raised his arms aloft in mock triumph. True, he earned a smattering of break points but Murray fended them off easily, and his returning throughout was way too good for the left-hander.

The defending champion won 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 in 84 minutes, and will face Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round.

The ease of the win was reflected in the post-match press conference, where matters urgently dealt with included (a) HRH the Duchess of Cornwall’s decision to abandon the Centre Court Royal Box to watch Murray instead (“it was nice”); (b) the possible exit of basketball megastar LeBron James from Miami Heat, where Murray is a season ticket holder (“I’d rather he stays”); (c) the appointment of Alan Stubbs as head coach at Scottish football club Hibs, of which Murray is a supporter (“it’s going to be tough”); (d) the latest incident of Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez biting an opponent (“it’s just wrong... weird... there’s something not quite right there”); and (e) detailed analysis of Heroic Murray Saves Dog From Certain Death (“driving to Wimbledon on Sunday... saw a dog running towards the traffic... visions of a car hitting the dog... jumped out of my car, stopped the traffic, grabbed the dog by the collar and threw it in the back of my car... returned it to the owner.”)

Give that man an OBE. Wait, he’s got one already - for services to tennis. You remember - tennis. He talked about that too, although there weren’t all that many chapters of discussion available about a match won so overwhelmingly.

Rola – among whose agreeable nicknames are High, Rock’n’ and Bay City (younger readers may need to Google that one) – announced before the match that his motivation for his first match against a top 10 player was “off the charts... hopefully I won’t poop my pants”. He certainly seemed relaxed arriving on No.1 Court, waving in acknowledgment of loud cheers, choosing to overlook that those cheers were largely for the man two paces behind him.

The actual match was very different for Rola from his straight sets first round win over Pablo Andujar. In that encounter he broke serve six times, won 80 percent of his own first serves and had 35 winners. Against Murray he had no breaks, 47 percent of the points on his first serve and – creditably – 10 winners. But for a man who until last summer was playing his tennis largely for Ohio State University, this was a gigantic step-up in class and it showed.

“I wanted to make sure that when I was on top I finished the sets off,” said Murray. “It helps not to have expended too much energy.

"At the French Open, some of the matches where I was ahead, I didn’t finish the sets as fast as I would have liked. I felt like that cost me a bit – not that I would necessarily have beaten Rafa [in the Roland Garros semi-final] if I’d played perfect – but there were a lot of long matches. If you can finish matches quickly it definitely helps in the long run.

"You put in a lot of hours of hard work, and it hurts a lot of the time. So when you’re in a position to win a match like this, you want to do it as quickly as possible.”

He made the kind of positive noises you might expect about his one week so far working with Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach.

“You can’t make massive differences in a week. It’s easier to make a quick improvement in mindset and concentration. But changes to my game will take longer. The chemistry so far has been good. I enjoy spending time with her on the court and off it. We’ve agreed on most things, so that’s good.”

So setting aside the big news about the Duchess of Cornwall, LeBron James, Alan Stubbs, Luis Suarez and Bode (the rescued dog), it should be said that Murray could scarcely have hoped for two more encouraging matches as the defence of his Wimbledon title progresses.

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