Murray reaps rewards of composure
No 'Kevin the teenager' tantrums as British No 1 sees off Haas to ensure safe passage into last 16 – where Gasquet awaits
Sunday 29 June 2008
That gummy grimace of pleasure after dispatching the former world No 2 Tommy Haas signified the conclusion of a splendid few days for Andy Murray. Three bloodless victories in which the Scot has dropped just one set means he can now contemplate further adventures as his critics digest the reality that this was the character who has been, at times, reminiscent of Harry Enfield's 'Kevin the Teenager' but who now has developed into a model of discipline and composure.
He is a man who can accept adversity without self-abasement and without raging against the world. Maybe a slight exaggeration on both counts, but certainly Andy Murray has grown in every sense since he was last here. As his predecessor in British affections, Tim Henman, reflected on this triumph: "His whole attitude and body language was first class. He'll be very pleased with his first week's work."
Yesterday, Murray returned to the Centre Court he vacated when beaten by Marcos Baghdatis 726 days ago, after progressing to this stage with a distinct absence of moodiness or surliness with victory against Belgium's Xavier Malisse, and France's Fabrice Santoro. Haas was barely more troublesome.
Those earlier contests had been a stroll, which he had followed by another more leisurely one with his new border terrier Maggie, and playing pool with his friends and girlfriend at his Wimbledon apartment. All part of the new image. The new man. Chilled. Ready to embrace all that Wimbledon could throw at him, under Miles Maclagan's coaching regime.
And looking ready now to demonstrate that his next autobiography will chronicle rather more achievement than his recently published first effort. Remember, that defeat by Baghdatis was his best Grand Slam performance, together with round-of-16 appearances at the 2006 US Open and last year's Australian Open. As yet, it's a life story which promises rather more than it has produced, though there were signs at the conclusion of the defeat of the 38-ranked Haas that he was seeing the ball in glorious, giant technicolour.
The only set to elude Murray was the result of a tie-break. Murray conceded: "Apart from the last few games of the second set, he [Haas] had few chances on my serve. I didn't play the tie-break too well, but I didn't let it affect me. Before I might have done. In the past, I struggled to deal with the expectancy and pressure. Now I've got people around me who are very supportive. That helps."
To describe yesterday's opponent as merely injury-prone does Haas no justice. He has had more surgery than the bionic man. Haas's best sequence here came last year when he reached the last 16, only to cry off a fourth-round match with Roger Federer because of a stomach tear. The Florida-based German has also required surgery for shoulder problems. There was a certain surprise that he actually arrived on court, without requiring a drip and nursing support.
In contrast, Murray's much-publicised ailments – a twisted ankle, injured knee, wrist damage and an injured thumb – appear a touch wimpish. Now 21, the Scot had been defeated by Haas in three sets earlier this year, at Indian Wells, but started with the kind of confidence to which he was entitled after those earlier rounds.
All highly satisfying for those in a Royal Box stuffed with the great of sport; the Brits among them harbouring expectations that Murray could become the first British men's singles champion for 72 years. Though he has work to do to attain the level of Federer and Rafael Nadal, there was plenty to enthuse those looking on, including those knights of the realm, the Bobbys Charlton and Robson and Steve Redgrave. A certain plain Mr Henman was also watching.
Murray lost the first six points but broke the German's serve in the third game, with a crosscourt forehand and a laser-targeted backhand. It provoked a relatively subdued crowd to the kind of frenzy one had expected. Yet, still, you sensed, support for Murray from many was qualified. A bit like Lib Dem voters wondering whether they should be backing David Davis. It was certainly not Henmania. But neither was it quite the Andy-apathy that some had deemed it. A young lad brandished a Saltire, but with no sign of Sean Connery this year, there was no Scottish fervour.
Interestingly, the isolated voices of support have a tendency to call him "Murray". Perhaps they can't quite bring themselves to call his Christian name. Yet.
At 4-2, Murray had three break points, but Haas's serving got him out of trouble, for the moment. One bellow of "Come on, me old Jock", induced widespread amusement as the Scot prepared to serve for the first set. The Jock duly delivered, to claim the set 6-4, with an unreturnable delivery.
While Murray had remained cool, without a hint of temper other than that trademark fist-clenching when he won a crucial point, it was Haas who, by now, had begun to cuss himself. Murray required only three games of the second set to break Haas again and was controlling events, teasing Haas with the full repertoire of shots.
Somehow it was all too straightforward. How swiftly can fortunes change. Murray was reminded of the resilience of the German, who broke back to make it 4-4. It went to a tie-break, during which the Scot served a double fault at the worst time to allow Haas to take the breaker 7-4 and restore parity.
It could have been a defining moment – the first set Murray had lost in this year's Championships. But he responded tenaciously. Though he insists that it "will take a couple more years before I'm playing at the highest level", the feeling grew all the more strong that Murray has it in him to eventually succeed here as he took the third set 6-3, for a two sets to one lead, and then claimed the fourth 6-2, to confirm he could safely make a diary entry – meet Richard Gasquet – for the second week at Wimbledon.
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