That was not all: the showers were predicted for lunchtime—just when Murray was due to take to court in pursuit of a place in the third round of the tournament he won in 2013.
But such is the egalitarian style of this great event—witness the ticket ballot, the queue, the flat price of every seat, front to back, of the famous show courts—that each of the top seeds, no matter the nationality, must take their turn away from Centre Court, currently the only one at the All England Club with a roof.
Sure enough, even before the gates opened to the public, the sky was dark and heavy with humidity. By the time the ranks of fans lined Court 15, where Murray was warming up ahead of his 1pm start, there was drizzle in the air. Courts all around were being covered… it did not look good.
Murray continued through the usual routine as the rain began—some loosening groundies, some practice at the net, a few overheads, a bit of serving, all under the quiet, watchful eye of the heavily pregnant Amelie Mauresmo—and the public faithfully stuck to their seats. But his half hour done, he was off and the covers were on.
Of course Court 1 does not, as yet, have a roof, but fortunately, the rain was so short-lived, the heat again so high, that the covers were off at midday: Murray would begin on time—and seats were at a premium even though Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were competing for air-time on Centre Court
At the designated time, 1pm, he and the tall, erratic Dutch player Robin Haase, strolled on to a rapturous reception. This has become the norm wherever Murray lays his racket bag, and Court 1 was no different.
Since the very first, 10 years ago, Murray has always reached at least the third round here, but Haase was a challenge—at least he was on a good day. Their last three meetings were at Grand Slams, and the two they played at the US Open were very tough indeed. In 2011, when they also played on the tournament’s second court, Haase took the first two sets before Murray’s fitness and focus pulled him through in five.
But the Dutchman has often suffered from inconsistency, so while he reached the semis on the grass of ‘s-Hertogonbosch, and is a former junior finalist here, his grass history was not strong, though his US performance gave him hope that he could cause a few problems in this their first meeting on grass: “I will try to find a weakness.
“I have proven that I have beaten him once. Maybe it’s a long time ago, but still, I beat him.” That was their first meeting, in Rotterdam in 2008.
His optimism very quickly looked misplaced, however, and after an initial hold in the very first game, he did not win another in the set, a 20-minute affair, 6-1. Murray had made lob winners, forehand winners and serve winners, and looked the vastly superior player.
In the second, Murray had to defend deuce in the opening game but then broke to love, survived some testing baseline rallies to fight off break point for 3-0, broke again for 5-1 with some pummelling play from the all corners of the court. He served out for 6-1.
The match was barely an hour old, and even the few drops of rain that showed their face quickly retreated as the humidity and heat built up again. The tennis heated up too, as the talent of Haase surfaced to produce some great rallies of variety, pace and quality. The Dutchman let out his first roar with an opening hold, and another after producing two fine winners to go 30-15 on Murray’s serve. But the Briton was able to answer the question and reeled off three straight points.
Haase fought off a break point to hold for 2-1, with another ‘C’mon!’ and they remained locked in some great exchanges to 3-3. But an untimely double fault, and Murray had break point, and Haase fired a forehand wide.
Murray did not look back, and the final game was a collection for the highlight reel: a forehand pass, a cross-court winner, a drop shot set-up drawing one last error for the match in under an hour and half, 6-4.
Not for the first time, Murray took a standing ovation, and edged off the court signing programmes, hats, and more at ever-increasing distances from his reach. He was clearly enjoying the moment and the quality of his win, as he afterwards confirmed.
“I started very well and quickly, and then he played better tennis middle of the second set, and that’s what I expected. There were some longer rallies in the third, and we really played some nice points.
“Very happy with the way I played. I think I could have done some things better in the first match, but today I feel like I dictated the baseline rallies, think I played a good match.”
There was no denying that: It demonstrated the full gamut of the Murray talent, though 25 winners to just 11 errors, and 15 out of 17 points won at the net did some justice to it.
He next plays either Andreas Seppi or Borna Coric, which will be another step up in quality. Both are in form, both like to play aggressive tennis. It will be worth catching… and this time almost certainly on Centre Court.
NB Minutes later, Murray was joined by James Ward in the third round, after the Briton scored a strong win over Jiri Vesely, 6-2, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3. He will play either Vasek Pospisil or Fabio Fognini.
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