When Andy Murray went a break down to Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun in the first set of his opening match here at the Aegon Championships it would have been no surprise if tournament organisers had started reaching for the smelling salts. Having just witnessed Rafael Nadal fall at the first hurdle, beaten 6-3, 6-7, 6-4 by Alexandr Dolgopolov, the last thing anyone associated with the tournament wanted to see was the departure of its top seed and main attraction.
To relief all round, however, Murray quickly retrieved the break and went on to win 6-4, 7-5. “It wasn’t an easy match,” the Scot said. “He’s a good player. He takes the ball on and the ball shoots through the court pretty flat. He likes a quicker court. It was a tricky match.”
Murray’s task, nevertheless, was not as tricky as Nadal’s. Dolgopolov, the world No 79, has fallen 56 places in the rankings this year following knee surgery, but the 26-year-old Ukrainian has great talent and is one of the most unpredictable shot-makers in the game.
Dolgopolov took the opening set after winning the first three games, but Nadal appeared to have weathered the storm when he saved a match point with a service winner in the second set tie-break, which he went on to win 8-6. The Spaniard also made an early break in the decider, in which he led 4-2, but Dolgopolov then broke him twice to take the match. Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, and the former king of Spain, Juan Carlos, were in the crowd.
Nadal was philosophical in defeat. He pointed out that he would be going into Wimbledon, which starts in 12 days’ time, with five grass-court matches under his belt, having won his first title on the surface for five years in Stuttgart three days ago. The only previous occasion when he has gone into Wimbledon having played as many matches on grass was when he won the title here seven years ago (and went on to triumph at the All England Club).
“I fought until the end and he made a great comeback,” Nadal said. “I didn’t play a bad match, but matches here are sometimes decided by just a few things, and I was not lucky enough today.”
Already down to No 10 in the world rankings, Nadal looks certain to be seeded outside the top eight at Wimbledon, where he could meet any of the top players as early as the quarter-finals and suffer the same fate as he did at the French Open, where he lost at that stage to Novak Djokovic.
However, Nadal insisted: “This week I lost an opportunity, but my feelings are no different today to what they were yesterday. I am playing better than before, and enjoying being on the court more than before. Today I lost. I accept that. I will keep going. I’m going to keep practising hard. I hope to be ready to play well at Wimbledon.”
Nadal said he would go to Majorca for a few days before Wimbledon, though his return home will be delayed by his involvement in the doubles. He teamed up with Marc Lopez to beat Milos Raonic and Edouard Roger-Vasselin 6-4, 6-4.
Murray was given a good workout by Lu, who beat the Scot at the Beijing Olympics seven years ago. The 31-year-old made the first break of serve in both sets, but each time Murray responded immediately with a break of his own. The world No 3, who will meet Spain’s Fernando Verdasco in the second round on Thursday, hit 12 aces and rounded off his victory in style with a winning lob.
Stan Wawrinka, who stuck with the pink-checked shorts he wore en route to his French Open triumph but opted for a white shirt, beat Nick Kyrgios 6-3, 6-4 in just 49 minutes. Kyrgios, who was suffering with a cough, said afterwards that he had “felt uncomfortable the whole time” and added: “I almost found it difficult to get myself engaged and didn’t want to be there.”
Wawrinka said he had not noticed anything wrong with Kyrgios. “When I’m sick and cannot play, I don’t come,” the Swiss said. “If I play, I just play and that’s it. I didn’t notice anything. With him, you never know what’s happening on the other side of the court.”Reuse content