It would be understating matters to say that it wasn't exactly in the script for Andy Murray to go a set down in his first-round match against Spain's Daniel Gimeno-Traver under the Centre Court roof last night. Think of a speech meant for Bobby De Niro being improvised by Bobby Davro and that was how much it wasn't in the script.
Strangely, though, there was only a muted sense of surprise in the packed crowd. This is partly because it seems almost a birthright for home-grown tennis players expected to prosper at Wimbledon to put their fans just a little bit through the mill, early in the fortnight. We've suffered years of it. Besides, it was less than 24 hours since Rory McIlroy had done precisely what was expected of him by converting his huge 54-hole lead in the US Open into a first major title. Maybe it was too much, too soon, to hope for another exciting young sportsman from the British Isles to live up to expectations, and of course Murray carried more expectations than he ever has before into this tournament, having played so wonderfully to win on grass at Queen's.
However, the sense of surprise was muted also because at no point did anyone in the celebrated arena, with the possible exception of Senor y Senora Gimeno-Traver, if they were there, really think that Murray was on his way to a beating. Slumped insouciantly in the front row of the royal box another illustrious Scotsman, Sir Jackie Stewart, never looked worried that the boy's wheels were coming off. They just needed a little tightening.
It's hard to know what made the difference, but about halfway through the second set, the world No 4 rediscovered his impeccable touch at just the same time that Gimeno-Traver stopped playing like Barcelona and started playing like Bradford City. In the third set, he stopped playing like Bradford City and started playing like Bagshot Rovers. Murray by now was imperious, throwing in some characteristic crowd-pleasers such as the disguised drop shot and, best of all, the forehand cross-court bazooka at full gallop.
Indeed, as if punishing the Spaniard, ranked a lowly 56th in the world, for his outrageous effrontery in claiming the first set, Murray deployed his full repertoire of shots to deny an increasingly hapless opponent a single game in the third and fourth sets. In winning those two sets, the fourth in a mere 17 minutes, he yielded only 15 points – an extraordinary assertion of dominance, especially given Gimeno-Traver's solid start – before finally finishing off the match with the kind of scampering, all-court athleticism of which perhaps only Novak Djokovic, of the other leading players, is capable.
As for the great roof, surely not even the most diehard All-England Club traditionalist, unless his mind is addled by too much Pimm's, can still regret its construction. If a gloomy weather forecast is to be believed, then it seems likely that Murray will play underneath it again this week, so last night's experience should prove useful. It does manifestly create an altered environment, not only by shutting out the wind, but by introducing subtle changes of light, rendering the grass almost lime-green. It also provides something of an echo chamber for the cries of "C'mon Andy", one of which was issued by an overexcited woman in the middle of a rally, provoking a resounding mass shush.
Happily, no one at Wimbledon 2011 has yet cried "C'mon Tim" to raise a cheap laugh, which dispiritingly it usually does. It perhaps helps to have so recently watched McIlroy's storming performance at the Congressional Country Club, his every shot – from the longest drive to the shortest putt – greeted by at least one cerebrally challenged spectator bellowing "in the hole". By comparison, the moron quotient at Wimbledon is mercifully low, but Murraymania, like Henmania before it, still flushes them out. The object of the histrionics, however, claims to be nothing other than buoyed by his support, whatever form it might take. It's a fair bet, especially if Murray continues to show the occasional sign of vulnerability, that we ain't heard nothing yet.Reuse content