Murray plays waiting game as big rivals sharpen challenges

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The Independent Online

As if Andy Murray did not have enough pressure building around him, a full scale conspiracy might have been working against his best hopes at least for a few hours last night. If that sounds paranoid, it's a complaint that has few better breeding grounds when the rain keeps coming down here.

Murray started the day with the routine concern that the vagaries of the draw had left him in ambush territory inhabited by an extremely menacing Croat, 32-year-old Ivan Ljubicic.

But by the time much of SW19 was pouring itself a first gin and tonic of the day Murray was obliged to sweat out a rain delay, which was one problem he thought he was insulated against when he was returned to the protection of the Centre Court's roof after a brief and somewhat tortuous foray on Court One on Wednesday.

Murray left his second-round match with the dour German Tobias Kamke in need of some swift psychological restoration despite the fact that he won in three sets. While the ferocious trinity of reigning champion Rafa Nadal, the gilded veteran Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic had all been producing streaks of quite iridescent brilliance, Murray had been required to labour through a 7-5 third set.

This kind of thing happens regularly under the weight of Wimbledon expectation, of course, but when it does it is good to flush it away with the latest of the rainwater.

That was not possible yesterday when first Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova fought her way back into her match with Victoria Azarenka, of Spain, taking it into three sets. Then it began to rain, a development that requires at least 45 minutes to get the roof into full working order.

It meant that Murray was facing the likelihood of a match stretching beyond the 11pm cut-off imposed by the local council. That would have been irksome even including the presence of a push-over on the other side of the net. The trouble for Murray is that while Ljubicic can be described in many ways, push-over is not one of them. He was potentially the worst kind of nightmare for someone like Murray, who at No 4 is 29 places ahead of him in the world rankings. But this was not a statistic that brought too much comfort while the man from Dunblane applied himself to the task of staying calm.

One way of killing the time was not to research the track record of the man who held a 3-3 record from their previous matches. The Croat caused his first major stir as a 16-year-old after his family had dodged the worst parts of the volatile map of the Balkan war when he finished runner up in the world junior championship.

In his opening performance here the Croat cut down his highly regarded compatriot Marin Cilic before accounting for Sergiy Stakhovsky in straights sets to earn a shot at Murray. For the Scot it meant that last night presented a whole raft of threats to his peace of mind, all of which could only be dispelled by the show of authority which failed to materialise against Herr Kamke.

Too often Murray had felt less commanding against the German, which is not the best way to feel if you are seen as a serious contender to tear down the collective aura building around the firm of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic.

It is a challenge some believe he is capable of meeting and there are times when he has had to reason to include himself in that number. However, there are times when any man's confidence comes under strain – and one of them is surely when you are obliged to wait in the glow of some brilliant performances by your most threatening rivals.

One thing was certain, at least. Andy Murray faced one of his longest, if not desperate nights.

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