Murray bounces back from Centre Court snub to put on a show of power

Click to follow
The Independent Online

By the time he came off the court here last night Andy Murray was in an all too familiar position, the last man standing amid the wreckage of two woeful days for British tennis.

The world No 4 got his own Wimbledon campaign off to the best of starts, beating the Czech Republic's Jan Hajek 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 in an hour and 41 minutes, but for the first time in the 133-year history of these championships there will be only one home player through to the second round.

Jamie Baker, Murray's fellow Scot and the only other British man competing in the singles, was beaten in straight sets, while Anne Keothavong and Heather Watson joined the four other British losers from the first day. Twelve months ago, Elena Baltacha's belated first-round victory saved the host nation from similar ignominy, but this time Murray is the only home player who has survived the opening skirmishes.

With the Queen visiting the All England Club tomorrow – her first visit for 33 years – the Lawn Tennis Association will be grateful to have the only jewel in its crown on display. Murray will be facing Finland's Jarkko Nieminen, a four-set winner yesterday over Austria's Stefan Koubek.

The last four months have not been easy for Murray, who has failed to reach the semi-final of any tournament since he lost the Australian Open final to Roger Federer, but after a slow start the 23-year-old accelerated to a thoroughly convincing victory. Hajek, the world No 90, did not play like a man who had only ever won one match on grass, but the 26-year-old Czech was swept aside as Murray quickly took control.

Although he seemed reluctant to attack the net, nearly every part of Murray's game looked in good shape. Serving at speeds of up to 137mph, the Scot hit 17 aces and dropped only five points on his first serve. He also hit 56 winners and struck the ball with increasing confidence as the afternoon progressed.

"I thought it was good," Murray said afterwards. "The start of the match was tough. He was hitting the ball really well."

The match was played on Court No 1, the first time since Murray's debut year in 2005 that he has played anywhere other than Centre Court. If the surroundings were unfamiliar to the Scot, the crowd also seemed uncertain how to welcome him on to the court. The applause that greeted Murray was as warm as the sunshine on what was a glorious summer's afternoon, but it was hardly the tumultuous reception you would expect for Britain's most outstanding talent for three-quarters of a century.

After four games, the crowd were positively subdued as the Briton played a poor service game and was broken, Hajek converting his second break point with a drop shot of which Murray would have been proud. It was just the morale-booster the Czech needed. Hajek struck the ball with confidence and made regular forays to the net, where he looked more than comfortable.

If the alarm bells were starting to ring in some minds around the court, there was never a hint of panic in Murray's play. The match turned when Hajek served at 4-3. The Czech saved two break points, firstly by playing serve-and-volley and then by hitting a clever drop shot, but on the third Murray smacked a scorching backhand return winner down the line, which he greeted with a raucous "C'mon!"

Having played conservatively in the first few games, Murray immediately started to open his shoulders, hitting a succession of big ground strokes from the back of the court. He was becoming increasingly fired up and, when Hajek hit a backhand long on Murray's first set point, the Scot let out a celebratory shout of "Yes!"

From that point onwards there was only going to be one winner. Murray raced through the second set in 26 minutes, the only hiccup coming when he had to save a break point when serving at 5-1. A forehand cross-court winner did the job and an ace and a service winner followed to secure the set. The third set took just four minutes longer, Murray completing victory on his second match point with a service winner.

"I was in the right frame of mind for the match," Murray said. "When I went behind I felt calm. It wasn't the best start, but I found a way to get back in the match."

As for the other British performances, there is no disguising the fact that the men's game in particular is in a poor state. Roger Draper, the Lawn Tennis Association's chief executive, has consistently promised jam tomorrow, but the world rankings tell their own sorry story, with only one British man in the world's top 170.

The British women have raised their standards in recent years, but the pressure of performing here clearly got to Baltacha, the British No 1, and to Keothavong, one of her predecessors. At least the performances of Watson and Laura Robson, who have both won junior Grand Slam titles in the last two years, offer some hope for the future.

Asked about the situation, Murray said: "It's not great, is it? Obviously I would like to see more British players playing in tournaments and more British wins.

"Everybody at the Lawn Tennis Association will be disappointed as well. A few of the girls had chances to win and didn't quite take them."

Elsewhere, Robin Soderling, the beaten French Open finalist, demolished Robby Ginepri, of the United States, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, raising hopes that he might go better than his previous best performance here in reaching the fourth round. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has proved in the past that he has the game for grass, but the Frenchman was less than convincing in his 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 win over American qualifier, Robert Kendrick, who hit 28 aces. "Robert is a very good player," Tsonga said. "I knew before the match it would be difficult, and it was. He served unbelievably and I didn't return a lot, but enough to win."