Andy Murray had not played for a month after injury forced him to miss the French Open but the 26-year-old Scot made the perfect return to competition here by winning two matches in one afternoon.
Victories over Nicolas Mahut and Marinko Matosevic took Murray into the quarter-finals of the Aegon Championships, but what will have equally pleased the world No 2 was the fact that he played without any recurrence of his lower-back problems. Murray looked in excellent physical shape in his only tournament in the build-up to Wimbledon, which begins in 10 days' time.
If there was a positive side to Murray missing his first Grand Slam tournament for six years it was the opportunity to practise more on grass. The likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will not be putting on their grass-court shoes until next week, whereas Murray has already had a fortnight to find his feet on the surface.
The Scot looked at ease from the moment he went back on court to complete a 6-3, 7-6 victory over Mahut, their match having been called off because of rain the previous night at 2-2 in the second set. Three and a half hours later Murray was back on court, but he needed only 57 minutes to beat Matosevic 6-2, 6-2.
Mahut is the world No 224 and Matosevic the world No 65, but the Frenchman provided much the stiffer test. Mahut plays grass-court tennis the way it used to be played and his bold forays to the net and smart volleys kept Murray on his toes. Murray had to save two break points at 3-3 and trailed 4-3 in the tie-break, which he eventually won 7-4 with a backhand cross-court winner.
Matosevic, who was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina but moved to Melbourne as a child, is on the brink of replacing Bernard Tomic as Australian No 1. On this evidence, however, that says much for the poor state of the game Down Under. The windy conditions were not easy, but Matosevic never looked capable of coping with Murray's punishing passing shots and skidding slices.
When Matosevic lost to Nadal in Monte Carlo two months ago he resorted to kicking over the Spaniard's meticulously positioned water bottles in what appeared to be a final attempt to disturb his opponent's rhythm. Here, it would have taken a David Nalbandian-like kick to throw a focused Murray off course.
Matosevic held serve in the opening game, but thereafter Murray took control. The Scot won 10 of the next 12 games until his only lapse when he dropped serve at 4-1 in the second set. It was only delaying the inevitable as Murray completed victory two games later when the Australian missed a forehand return.
Murray was particularly pleased with his movement in his first outings of the year on grass and said he had felt good physically, which was especially pleasing given the stop-start nature of the last two days. "Everything felt good," he said. "I woke up this morning with no real stiffness."
The Scot said it had been difficult to watch rather than play in the French Open. "It can be easy to take things for granted sometimes," he said. "You realise how much you love competing and being around the tournaments when everything is good and you're healthy and you're playing every week. You don't often think about it that much, and when you're away from it and you miss one of the biggest tournaments, one of the tournaments you prepare extremely hard for and put the hard work in for, then it's tough. I was really looking forward to getting back on the court again."
Asked whether missing Roland Garros might have been a blessing in disguise, Murray said: "I would much rather have been playing the French Open. You have to look at the positives sometimes and, yes, the one positive is I got to spend more time on the grass to prepare for here, but I would way rather have been at the French Open than being at home for two weeks."
Murray's next opponent shares the surname of one of the most famous players ever to play on these courts, but Benjamin Becker is no Boris. The 31-year-old German, whose main claim to fame was beating Andre Agassi in the last match of the American's career, had lost 10 first-round matches in succession before reaching the final of last week's Aegon Trophy in Nottingham. He followed up victories here over Tomic and Lukas Rosol, who claimed Nadal's scalp at Wimbledon last year, by beating the world No 24, Alexandr Dolgopolov, 7-6, 7-5.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also won two matches in the day, beating Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Igor Sijsling to earn a quarter-final against the world No 112, Denis Kudla, of the United States. The winner will face Murray or Becker in Saturday's semi-finals.
Tomas Berdych, the second seed behind Murray, takes on Marin Cilic, while Lleyton Hewitt faces Juan Martin del Potro. Hewitt beat Sam Querrey, the champion here three years ago, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.Reuse content