Ricky Gervais was in the house as Andy Murray’s guest so the Wimbledon champion wanted to put on a good show. And he could not have asked for a better day at the office (see what we did there?) than the 95 minute shift he put in on Centre Court on Friday evening to beat Roberto Bautista Agut and ease himself into the second week of The Championships.
His 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 dismissal of the Spaniard was a clinical as it was brutal and it was the perfect marker to throw down to the rest of the field before Murray headed off for the weekend (he will not play again until Monday). It was more than enough to give the pretenders to his crown something to think about as they went about their business.
As Murray was counting down the days to the start of his defence of the title, he could never have imagined that his opening week would go smoothly. So far, he has spent just five hours and 12 minutes on court and he has dropped just 19 games on his way to the fourth round. Compared to the travails of his nearest rivals, Murray is living the life of Riley. Where Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have had to play themselves into some semblance of form, the champion hit the ground running from the opening Monday and has barely broken a sweat to get this far.
It was not as if anyone could claim Bautista Agut was just another one of those Spanish clay courters who comes to SW19 and simply goes through the motions for a round or two before heading for home. Far from it. He is the world No.23 and won the first title of his career last week on grass in ‘s-Hertogenbosch – Bautista Agut is no topspin merchant patrolling the ground 20 feet behind the baseline. But no matter how comfortable he thought he felt on a grass court, Murray brushed him aside like a speck dust.
The Murray backhand was ruthless and, from Bautista Agut’s perspective, the forehand was positively poisonous. Save for a minor blip at the end of the second set when he made a bit of a mess of serving for the set and was broken and a minor lapse in concentration when he went to close out the match (he was on course to win the third set 6-0 but got derailed slightly), this was his best performance of the tournament by a country mile. With every round, he is stepping up a gear and it gave Bautista Agut no chance at all.
Before the match began, the Spaniard had looked forward to the prospect of playing Murray on grass – just not necessarily at tennis. Contemplating the massive task ahead of him, he reckoned he stood a better chance of beating the champion on a football pitch rather a tennis court. A fine footballer in his youth, Bautista Agut was signed up with the Villarreal youth programme but, then again, so great was the gulf in class between the two men that that probably would not have worked either – Murray, remember, went for a trial with Rangers when he was a lad. This was Murray’s day from the moment he set foot on court.
The only people who seemed not to notice Murray’s impressive progress were his family. His mum, Judy, just slipped into the players’ box for the last couple of games because she had spent most of the evening cheering on her eldest, Jamie, in the doubles.
“He’s the No.1 son, he’s the priority,” Murray said with a wry smile. “None of my family came to watch me – I’m obviously the No.2 son. He’s always No.1. That’s why I’m so competitive.”
They may be back to watch on Manic Monday when the Scot takes on Kevin Anderson, the huge South African with the even bigger serve. He beat Fabio Fognini 4-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 but did admit that he was feeling a bit nervous about facing Murray on Centre Court.
“Kevin’s going to be a tough opponent,” the champion said. “Like Roberto, he is playing the best tennis of his career at the moment, he’s made some improvements in the past year. He’s a big guy with a big game and I’m going to have to return well if I’m going to win that one.”
But as the rest of the clan Murray would have noticed had they been on court to watch on Friday: Murray is playing well at the moment. Very well indeed.
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