The waiting is over and Andy Murray is under way at last. Given the weight of public expectation, the last nine days since he played a match must have passed painfully slowly, but the 22-year-old Scot opened his Wimbledon campaign here last night in the only way that mattered. His 7-5, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Robert Kendrick provided only occasional reminders of the brilliance that has made him one of the favourites to win this year's Wimbledon, but there was barely a moment when the result was in doubt.
If the burden on Murray's shoulders grew with his first grass-court title at Queen's Club earlier this month, it has increased further with the burgeoning interest of a public who are starting to believe in his chances of ending Britain's 73-year wait for a male champion here. While Murray dismissed the idea that he would feel any extra pressure given the habitual failure of his fellow countrymen to provide any sort of support - the remaining British men all lost their first-round matches yesterday - it can hardly have helped.
Murray's return of serve was not as sharp as usual, his ground strokes lacked their usual reliability and there were occasions when he lapsed into the over-cautious mode that has sometimes proved his downfall in the past. Nevertheless, there was still plenty to admire in the world No 3's game. He hit 20 aces, found a decent rhythm on his backhand and gave several demonstrations of his electrifying speed around the court to earn a second-round meeting with the Latvian Ernests Gulbis.
If it was not a totally convincing victory, much of the credit had to go to Kendrick, a 29-year-old American for whom limited success has come comparatively late in life. The world No 76 enjoyed his finest moment when he took Rafael Nadal to five sets here three years ago and he was clearly determined to enjoy his rare opportunity in the sun. Kendrick threw himself around Centre Court, making several diving volleys, and treated the crowd to one last dive when he walked off at the end of the match.
The big-hitting Californian might have fancied he had a puncher's chance. He served well throughout and hit some huge winners, though he ultimately made too many errors.
"It was a tough match," Murray said afterwards. 'I was expecting him to come out and go for some big shots. He pulled some off at the end of the second set and he served very well for three sets."
It was a gloriously sunny afternoon, though you sensed that it will again take time for the Wimbledon public to warm to Murray. There was certainly little of the passion the crowd had shown in his last victory in this arena, when he came back from two sets down to beat Richard Gasquet in last year's fourth round.
For the first six games Kendrick made the mistake of hitting too many shots to the best backhand in world tennis. Murray broke in the very first game and did not drop a point on his own serve until the sixth. The Scot dropped his serve when leading 4-3, but broke again with some mighty backhand returns to lead 6-5 served out for the set.
There were no breaks of serve in the second set, but Murray did not look in danger until he served a double fault at 3-3 in the tie-break. When he served again at 3-6, Kendrick ran round the ball to crash a huge forehand winner from outside the tramlines.
Kendrick's confidence was understandably high, but Murray made the only break of the third set in the sixth game, in which the American served two double faults. When Kendrick mishit a forehand at 30-40 Murray clenched his fist and screamed "Come on!" The Scot converted his second set point three games later when Kendrick put a forehand in the net.
In the fourth set Murray broke to lead 3-2 with a typically brilliant point. Having brought Kendrick into the net with an exquisite backhand drop shot, he then cracked a lovely backhand cross-court winning pass. Kendrick saved a match point when serving at 3-5, but it was only delaying the inevitable. In the next game Murray created a second match point with an assured smash and converted it immediately when Kendrick hit a forehand return long. The Scot turned to the crowd to roar his approval and can now look forward to playing an opponent whose game is not dissimilar to Kendrick's.
Like the American, Gulbis has a natural inclination to go for his shots. With a big serve and ground strokes to match, the 20-year-old quickly climbed into the world's top 40, though he has slipped back to No 74 in the world rankings after a poor first half of the year. His 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory yesterday over Italy's Riccardo Ghedin was only his tenth in 26 matches in 2009 (compared with Murray's 41-6 win-loss record).
The 20-year-old Latvian has not won two matches in a row all year and lost in the first round at Queen's Club a fortnight ago to Alberto Martin, a clay-courter. He has played here only twice before, losing to Marcos Baghdatis in the first round two years ago and to Nadal in the second round last year, though he did take a set off the eventual champion. Murray has played him twice before, winning in three sets at Queen's last summer and in two sets at St Petersburg later in the year. Gulbis' father is an investment businessman and in the past his son flew to Challenger tournaments in his private jet.
Asked what it would take for him to reach the final, Murray said: "I'd have to play great tennis. Obviously I would have to win five more matches, and they're going to get tougher every round. But I'm not going to start worrying about reaching the final yet. I need to focus on the next match. I've got a very tough opponent. Gulbis has caused some upsets in the past and is a huge hitter of the ball. I'm going to need to be on my game to beat him."
Great Scot: Murray in numbers
85.4 Percentage of games Andy Murray had won in this calendar year, prior to Wimbledon
12 Number of career singles title won by Murray, one more then Tim Henman.
145 Speed, in miles per hour, of Murray's fastest recorded serve, against Kevin Kim in San Jose in February 2007.
9 Murray held a 9-3 win record at Wimbledon before yesterday, his best performance last year's quarter-final.
3 Number of times Murray has reached the last eight of a Grand Slam, all within the last 12 months.
26 Months since Murray first achieved a top 10 world ranking.Reuse content