Henman survives and Murray thrives on day of British hope

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The Independent Online

The summer solstice heralded a bright new dawn for Andrew Murray and for a time it seemed that Tim Henman would be left at Stonehenge.

The British No 1 needed all his experience to beat Jarkko Nieminen of Finland 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 and avoid losing in the first round for the first time since his debut in 1994.

Fortunately, the 30-year-old Henman's quest for the title was not left in ruins on Centre Court on the day the 18-year-old Murray announced himself in style on Court Two, known as "the graveyard of champions".

Murray's first appearance in the main draw at Grand Slam tournament was seamless, as if he had competed on the lawns for years. His 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 win against George Bastl, of Switzerland, the man who brought Wimbledon to a close for the great Pete Sampras on the same court in 2002, was achieved with calmness and authority after an hour and 38 minutes.

Henman opened his 12th Wimbledon as if he was the beginner, allowing the 23-year-old Nieminen to dictate the way the match was played before recovering from two sets down for the fourth time in his career.

"I was not playing well, but I was flat with my attitude and my body language on the court," he said. "I think the crowd could see that as well. Two sets to love down, you've got to dig in and play with what you've got."

Nieminen, who defeated a hobbled Andre Agassi in the first round at the French Open, took the first set in only 30 minutes. He then recovered after being broken in the opening game of the second set and went on to win a tie-break 7-4 after Henman double-faulted to 6-4 down.

Realising that the match was running away from him, Henman began to play with greater purpose, rather than simply hitting the ball harder, and was rewarded in the third and fourth sets, by which time Nieminen's belief began to fade.

Henman, to the relief of the 14,000 Centre Court spectators and millions of television viewers, further raised his game in the fifth set, and there was an audible sigh after he won the opening three games. He next plays Dmitry Tursunov, of Russia, ranked No 152 in the world.

Murray, already relied upon to help Greg Rusedski hold Britain's Davis Cup team together and viewed as the likely long-term successor to Henman as the nation's top player, took yesterday's success in his stride.

"I wasn't really expecting to win," he said. "He's ranked 166 places higher than me, and he's won against Sampras here."

While that is true, Bastl spends his time playing on the lower level challenger circuit nowadays, and this is the first time he has qualified for the main draw at a Grand Slam event since beating Sampras.

Murray, while determined to win every match he plays and disappointed when he falls short, is also talking down his prospects in the second round against the 14th-seed Radek Stepanek, of the Czech Republic.

"He plays well on grass," Murray observed. "If I go out and play one of my best matches, I've got a slight chance. But apart from that, no, I should lose pretty comfortably."

Murray may be one of the few people in Britain underplaying his progress.

"I still haven't really done anything," he said. "I won the US Open juniors, which was good, and I won a couple of match at Queen's, and now I've won a match here, and everybody's making as if I've pretty much won Wimbledon. I think it's a little bit over the top."

None the less, there was much to admire yesterday. Displaying his skill in constructing points from the back of the court, honed on slow clay in Barcelona, Murray took control early, breaking for 5-4 in the opening set. The 30-year-old Bastl was unable to create a single break point.

Murray broke for 3-2 and 5-2 in the second set, and for 2-1 and 5-2 in the third - after giving himself a telling-off.

"I thought I could have concentrated a bit better at the third set, and maybe towards the end of the second," he said. "I was getting a bit annoyed, mainly when I had easy passing shots and tried a couple of stupid lobs."

The most worrying moment was when he walked on court listening to the Black Eyed Peas on his iPod and wearing what appeared to be a diving boot on his left foot. A second glance showed that it was a heavy brace over strapping to protect the ankle he damaged at Queen's Club. He plans to have treatment to a bone spur soon after Wimbledon.

"I was told it will take one day and I'll be fine the next day," he said. "A lot of the guys use ankle supports, but it's not really the best thing to wear them all the time, because then you stop using your ankle and you can put a lot of pressure on your knees as well."

The ankle has held up well so far. As for the growing expectation - for the future rather than a for a long run in his first Wimbledon - Murray was delayed on court a long time signing autographs. So long, in fact, that Venus Williams passed by, almost unnoticed, on her way to play Eva Birnerova in the next match.

Another British wild card, Jonny Marray, from Sheffield, led the 51st-ranked Xavier Malisse of Belgium 3-0 in the final set, only to lose 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Brits in action

* WINNERS MEN

A Murray bt G Bastl (Swit) 6-4 6-2 6-2

T Henman bt J Nieminen (Fin) 3-6 6-7 6-4 7-5 6-2

WOMEN

J O'Donoghue bt A-L Groenefeld (Ger) 1-6 6-1 6-4

* LOSERS MEN

X Malisse (Bel) bt J Marray 6-3 3-6 2-6 6-1 6-4

WOMEN

S Karatantcheva (Bul) bt A Janes 7-5 6-7 7-5

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