Wimbledon 2014: Effortless Andy Murray in a hurry to third round

Wimbledon 2014: Defending champion Andy Murray breezes past Blaz Rola to reach the third round

andy murray
Andy Murray is through to round three at SW19 Photo: Marianne Bevis

This time last year, the first Wednesday at Wimbledon started like any other, but by its end, things were far from normal.

Already Rafael Nadal had lost in the first round and, come the second round, defending champion Roger Federer, along with former champion Maria Sharapova and Australian champion Victoria Azarenka had gone too. Also missing in action were Caroline Wozniacki, Marin Cilic, John Isner and Ana Ivanovic.

No doubt each of the top-ranked men playing on the same day this year were aware they were hot favourites—none faced a player ranked higher than 80—but nothing could be taken for granted.

there were certainly some intriguing match-ups among the opponents of Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov, and in particular Ernests Gulbis.

Almost before play had got under way on the two big show courts, the in-form Latvian No12 seed had fallen to the man who caused the biggest upset here last year, Sergiy Stakhovsky. Having reached the third round in 2013 with a blistering display over Federer, he did the same again to beat Gulbis in straight sets, cracking 34 winners to just eight errors.

The No6 seed Berdych, a former Wimbledon finalist, faced Bernard Tomic in a repeat of last year, a tough four-setter that went to the big Czech, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. And though the Australian’s ranking had floundered since he burst onto the scene as a teenager, he had reached his only Grand Slam quarter-final here in 2011 as an 18-year-old qualifier. Then, he lost to eventual champion Djokovic in four sets, and he was in the Serb’s quarter again.

The young player tipped by many for a Grand Slam title in the not too distant future is the 2008 Wimbledon junior champion and winner at Queen’s a fortnight ago, Dimitrov. The 23-year-old Bulgarian has enjoyed fast progress in the last 12 months, with three titles this year, a first Major quarter finish in Melbourne and Murray’s scalp on the way to his first 500 title in Acapulco.

And if any player has a game designed for grass, it is Dimitrov—a combination of power, touch, attack and footwork that promises to become irresistible on this surface. Now seeded 11, he took on fellow junior Wimbledon titlist, 20-year-old Luke Saville, the second youngest man to reach the second round, but it soon became a contest between a senior and junior.

Dimitrov—stronger, faster and more confident since taking on Roger Rasheed as his coach—was all over the Australian like a rash, running through Saville, as he had through Ryan Harrison, in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

On paper, Djokovic had something of a test in his second match against veteran Radek Stepanek, who reached a career-high No8 ranking after reaching the Wimbledon quarters in 2006. The 35-year-old Czech has the kind of serve-and-volley game to take time and rhythm away from his opponent—but last year was one of a string of nine players to pull out at the second round with injury.

Ahead of Wimbledon, he had thrown down a gauntlet with a semi run at Queen’s, taking out Murray in the process. However, Djokovic had beaten him 10 times in 11 previous matches: Even getting a set against the impenetrable Serb—who dropped just four games against the not inconsiderable talent of Andrey Golubev in the first round—would be a major achievement.

And it would probably be even more of an upset if Murray were to lose a set against the 92-ranked Slovenian, Blaz Rola. For a start, the defending champion is third among active players, after 32-year-olds Federer and Lleyton Hewitt, in grass match-wins.

Then, since winning here last year, he has had back surgery, and recovered to equal his best run on his worst surface with a semi finish at the French Open.

And there was his opening match against a spirited David Goffin, a match packed with class, power and variety and a straight-sets win for Murray. He looked every inch the home champion, and was greeted with a standing ovation on both arrival and departure.

Compare that with Rola, whose first win here was his first ever on grass on the main tour. Wimbledon was only his second Grand Slam—he qualified for the Australian Open at the start of the year—and he had never recorded back-to-back tour-level match wins before.

In fairness to him, he played some sparkling tennis at times that would have given him more leverage against most players. But Murray broke straight away, aced his way to a hold in the second game, and saved a break point with an ace in the third. A wonderful lob brought up a break chance against Rola in the fifth and a forehand pass converted for a 4-1 lead.

Even when Rola managed to extend the rallies with some nice cross-court slicing, it was Murray who broke the rhythm with a drop here, a zipping down-the-line winner there, and he broke to take the first set in 28 minutes.

Murray faced a break point in the opening game of the second set, but annulled it with another ace. He broke, and held for 3-0 with a fluid drop shot and swing volley combo. He did he same, in a cruel but exquisite drop-lob-volley play for 5-0, so not surprisingly, the entire arena roared their encouragement for the underdog as Rola won his only game of the set: He gave a wry smile before seeing Murray serve it out, 6-1, to love.

Murray was now playing some of his most uninhibited tennis, mixing power with touch. His opponent could make no headway and the pressure began to show as he was broken a third time in the third set after two double faults. Murray served out in style, after just 83 minutes, with a volley, and the crowd erupted.

Once again, he took a standing ovation, and it begs the question: What kind of reception will this quietly-spoken, home-grown champion receive should he take to Centre Court on final Sunday?

Before he finds out, there are hurdles like Dimitrov and Djokovic to contend with—and first up the No27 seed Roberto Bautista Agut—but in this form, Murray looks more than ready for the fray.

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