Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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As first rounds go, they do not come more entertaining than this. As first round results go, they do not feel more reassuring than this: Andy Murray has begun the defence of his Wimbledon title with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 win over Alexander Bublik.
The thought of the world No.1 facing the world No.134, the two-time champion facing the SW19 debutant, is not one that would normally cause anyone a sleepless night. Ah, a nice easy opener for Murray, then. But factor in Murray’s frayed preparations for The Championships thanks to a hip injury and the fact that Bublik is a showman par excellence and suddenly the grand curtain raiser to the tournament takes on a different hue.
Now then, young Mr Bublik is no shrinking violet. Born in Russia but playing under the Kazakhstan flag, he fell in the final round of the qualifying event and was so distraught that he was in tears – “and I never cry after matches,” our young hero said. But then Pablo Cuevas pulled out of the Gentlemen’s singles with a knee injury, Bublik was shoehorned into the draw as a lucky loser and all the tall 20-year-old’s dreams were about to come true. Opening proceedings on Centre Court against the defending champion and world No.1? That is not too shabby a start to a Wimbledon career.
Rather sensibly, Bublik took to the court wearing headphones – he is a great fan of Russian rap – which presumably protected his ears from the rapturous applause for the returning champion. The Kazakh entertainer was shown his place from the start: this was Murray’s court and these were Murray’s people.
But Murray’s people were worried. How was the world No.1? Was that a limp they detected as he walked between points or was it a hobble? Or was he just walking slowly? How had that dodgy hip healed in the last few days?
“This way someone gets to see my trick shots... Nobody gets to see them normally.”
As it turned out, a brief squint at the training manual would have settled everyone’s nerves: it is not what happens in between the points the matters, it is what happens when the ball is in play that counts. And when the ball was whizzing above the turf, Murray was looking relaxed, comfortable and happily in command.
“I feel pretty good,” Murray said. “The last few days, I’ve been feeling better each day. Obviously, getting out on the match court is a little bit different; the intensity is a little bit higher but also the adrenaline helps numb some pains that you might have and I thought I did pretty well for the first match.”
There was a brief moment of angst in the stands when Murray faced two break points in the first game (not even world No.1s are perfect all of the time) but they were fended off successfully and everyone could breathe easy again. But what was becoming rapidly apparent was that Bublik had plenty of tricks up his sleeve.
When tracked down by the world’s media before the match, Bublik was quizzed on his pre-match nerves. Would playing on the world’s most famous tennis stage give him any cause for concern? You must be joking. “This way someone gets to see my trick shots,” the jovial Kazakh said. “Nobody gets to see them normally.”
His first serve, when it goes in, is big. His second serve, when he fancies it, goes just as fast as the first. Then there are the drop shots, the forehand slices, the leathered returns, the tweeners (there were only eight minutes on the clock when he tried one of those and almost made it count) and all manner of other touches and inventions. The problem for Bublik is working out when to use which shot – so many to choose from, so little time to execute them.
Murray, though, is not without a trick or two of his own. Forced to unwrap a few humdingers before he had fully worked up a sweat, the world No.1 was pulling rank to race through the first set in 30 minutes and take the early lead in the second set.
Only when he came to serve for the two-set lead did life become a little tricky for the Scot as he found himself three break points down. No matter – five points in a row, including his trademark cross court forehand played at full stretch and on the run (no sign of a poorly hip there), and the set was his.
Three double faults – three of 12 in total – cost Bublik his serve at the start of third set and from there, all that managed to slow Murray’s romp to the second round and an appointment with Dustin Brown was the rain (one brief sprinkle after that break of serve and then a slightly longer delay a game later). Murray and his hip were off and running.