James Lawton: Federer won't be worried just yet
Wednesday 24 June 2009
It was never going to be a saunter in the strawberry fields. It never is, winning this title on behalf of a pining and essentially dysfunctional tennis nation, and nobody was more aware of this than Andy Murray.
Now the reality is out there and it was such a shock to some members of the Murraymania faction they only remembered to provide a proper level of support in the Centre Court when their new hero, the last British male standing after just two days, lost a second set tie-breaker to an opponent who was supposed to curl up and die.
Murray was reminded of a truth he has been trying to absorb with each stride up the rankings of the world game: there are only so many times you can tell yourself, or be told, that you have everything needed to win the tournament that has been making a dwarf of the British men for 73 years.
Then you have to go out on to the Centre Court and prove that it is really true.
For Murray here last night the problem was that, not for the first time in his career, Robert Kendrick, a 29-year-old, ill-considered Californian who had won just three matches in 12 major tournaments, decided that he was not without a few of his own virtues.
One of them is that once in a while he can take on the best of tennis talent, and the biggest of names, and look, for a little while at least, as if he is quite where he belongs.
He did it here three years ago when he ambushed Rafael Nadal by winning the first two sets. Against Murray, he didn't quite manage such an opening blitzkrieg, but when Murray lurched from one crisis of confidence to another, including a frayed conversation with the umpire after he was denied a call challenge – which he would have lost – Kendrick found the nerve to sweep to a second set tie-break victory.
It was a moment of troubling reality for Murray in a march to the pinnacle of the game that had begun to look like something of a dream sequence. A superb triumph for him at Queen's, the first for a British player in 71 years, was followed by the disappearance of the favourite Nadal with injury.
All that was barring his way, it seemed, to a moment of national sporting history was the renovated brilliance of Roger Federer. Last night, though, there were a few additional complications, on top of the fact that Federer, programmed to make his own impact on posterity with his sixth Wimbledon title and record-breaking 15th major, produced some moments of god-like brilliance on the first day.
Twenty-four hours later Murray was inhabiting different, and, it has to be said, much less elevated strata. Quite a lot of this had to do with Kendrick's seizing of his rare moment in the eye of of the world's greatest tournament. The American was serving so well, and displaying such a breezy sense of equality with a player ranked 73 places above him, that a lot of Centre Court – and Murray – certainties seemed to be draining away.
Such difficulties seemed to a thousand miles away when Murray came into the game with maximum confidence – though a surprisingly muted reception from the crowd that used to respond so wildly to the strivings of Tim Henman.
If this was mania, you had to believe that pretty massive tranquillisers had been prescribed. Certainly, the old passion for Henman seemed like a rather quaint memory, even when Murray's opening service games brimmed with controlled venom.
Murray broke Kendrick in the first game, and with such perfectly placed artillery fire, that his opponent seemed beaten before the battle had begun and it was not hard to believe he was about to make a massive statement of his intentions. A statement, moreover, filled with all the most optimistic assumptions about his ability to deal with the pressures that had been building around his head for the last few years.
While Murray picked his shots, Kendrick surrendered his serve in the worst possible way with a double-fault. That surely signalled an evening of easily gathered confidence for Murray.
Soon enough, though, it was clear something was not quite right with the pride of Dunblane. A man he had once swept aside 6-0, 6-0 on grass, was, in fact, not about to bend his head willingly to the killing strokes. Kendrick began to play with a bite that often comes to men who believe they have nothing to lose but their chains.
Murray, inevitably, produced moments of brilliance and he recovered his composure well to carry the first set 7-5. Unfortunately, Kendrick, who complained of a desperate hangover after that wipeout by Murray in Miami, was not prepared to be discarded like some jaded cocktail, and when he took the second set tie-breaker and continued to go for some dramatically realised shots, Murray was required to stay in the trenches to win in four sets.
He knew by now that whatever happened in the next week or so it was unlikely to be quite the serene passage to an appointment with Federer that so many have been taking rather for granted.
No, the tournament was strewn with rather more of a challenge than that and it was a fact which could not be obliterated by his regaining of the edge in the third and fourth sets. Kendrick's challenge might have been ebbing, but he was still able to play enough winning shots, and produce sufficient moments of aggressive force, to question some of the more confident belief in Murray's destiny.
In the end the man who believes he can scale Wimbledon was right to say, "I wasn't pleased with some of my groundstrokes, but I served well and, most important of all, I won." In British tennis such a statement will, surely, always be weighed in gold.
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