It is all change at the home of the grass-court season's most important pre-Wimbledon event. Bright blue is the predominant colour around the courts here at the Aegon Championships – given the economic climate it seems appropriate that a financial services company has succeeded Stella Artois as the title sponsor – and for the first time in the tournament's history the top seed is a Briton.
Despite being No 3 in the world rankings, Andy Murray is unaccustomed to seeing his name at the top of the draw sheet. He owes his place there this week to the withdrawal of Rafael Nadal, who is nursing sore knees back home in Majorca in the hope of being fit for Wimbledon, which starts in 11 days' time.
Given the non-appearance of the world No 1 and the withdrawals yesterday of Gaël Monfils and Marat Safin with wrist and back injuries respectively, the organisers could do with Murray going deep into the tournament. On yesterday's evidence that looks a distinct possibility. Having had a bye in the first round, Murray made a highly satisfying start when he beat Italy's Andreas Seppi 6-1, 6-4 in just 59 minutes.
The 22-year-old Scot did not look like a man playing his first grass-court match for 11 months. He was immediately into his stride, hitting his ground strokes with confidence and warming an appreciative crowd, who were shivering on a chilly and overcast afternoon, with his customary mix of drop shots, lobs and subtle variations of pace.
If the low bounces occasionally forced Murray to hurry his shots – no surprise given that he has spent the last two months playing on clay with the ball flying around his shoulders – there were some lovely pieces of improvisation. Seppi stood helpless when beaten by a sliced backhand lob in the first set and must have known his number was up when Murray created match point with a driven forehand half-volley winner.
It was just the sort of introduction to grass that Murray wanted. Seppi had won their only previous meeting on the surface, at Nottingham three years ago, but in four visits to Wimbledon the 25-year-old Italian has never got past the third round. He is a decent striker of the ball but was quickly forced out of his rhythm by Murray's quick-quick-slow routine.
Seppi held serve comfortably enough in the opening game but won only six points in the next six as Murray took the first set in just 22 minutes. The Scot's only stutter came when he was broken to 30 in the third game of the second set, but Seppi, the world No 48, never looked capable of capitalising on it. "I started the match very well," Murray said. "I played maybe one not so great game on my serve, and apart from that it was very good. I returned well. My serve could have been a little bit better, but I was happy with the way I moved and didn't make too many errors. I don't think Andreas played his best match, but it was good to get a comfortable start."
Murray now plays Guillermo Garcia-Lopez for the first time. The 26-year-old Spaniard, ranked No 52 in the world, beat Yen-Hsun Lu and Gilles Muller in his first two matches here and last month won his first tournament, a clay-court event at Kitzbuhel.
Queen's Club was the scene of Murray's first victory on the senior tour, against Santiago Ventura in 2005. That year he went on to beat Taylor Dent, the then world No 30, and was severely testing Thomas Johansson, the world No 20 at the time, before cramp scuppered his chances.
However, the Scot has not had much joy on his subsequent visits. He lost in the first round to Janko Tipsarevic in 2006, missed 2007 with a damaged wrist and pulled out of a quarter-final meeting with Andy Roddick 12 months ago after injuring his thumb.
Having reached the quarter-finals of the French Open last week – his best performance in Paris – Murray said he had had less time than usual to prepare for the grass-court season but felt in better shape at this stage of the year than he had in the past.
"I continued the momentum I had at the start of the year, when I had won a lot of matches," Murray said of his clay-court campaign. "I didn't win as many on clay, but I won matches most weeks and played a lot. In the past I wasn't maybe coming into the grass-court season as match-tight as I would have liked."
Lleyton Hewitt came from a set down to beat Portugal's Frederico Gil and now meets Andy Roddick, who, like the Australian, has won this event four times. Marin Cilic, the No 5 seed, was beaten 7-6, 7-6 by Nicolas Mahut, who lost to Roddick in the final two years ago. Mahut won despite losing his favourite racket in the locker room before going out on court. "That's never happened to me before," the Frenchman said. "Luckily I had four other rackets in my bag."
In the doubles competition Britain's Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski enjoyed the best win of their careers when they beat the American twins Bob and Mike Bryan 6-4, 6-4 to reach the quarter-finals. The Bryans are the world's top-ranked doubles pair, while Skupski and Fleming are ranked No 148 and 165 respectively. Jamie Murray, Andy's brother, partnered Israel's Jonathan Erlich to a 7-6, 3-6, 10-3 victory over the Czechs Leos Friedl and David Skoch.
Number of career wins, from 40 matches played, for Andy Murray on grass courts.Reuse content