Murray rises to royal occasion and swaggers past Nieminen
Friday 25 June 2010
Job done, thank you ma'am, and goodnight. The Queen's affection for tennis is probably reflected in the fact that her visit to the All England Club yesterday was her first for 33 years, but at least Andy Murray did her proud. On a day when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut completed their 11-hour marathon, Murray ensured that the monarch would be back in time for tea by winning his second-round match against Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in just an hour and 42 minutes. After a brief conversation with the two men, she was on her way home.
If the Finn edged the Scot when it came to their pre and post-match bows to the royal box – Murray admitted after seeing a slow-motion replay that he "looked a little bit awkward" while Nieminen performed with the apparent assurance of a West End actor – they were just about the only moments when the last home player in either singles event appeared less than comfortable.
Murray, who will meet France's Gilles Simon in the third round tomorrow, could hardly have played better. He had just four break points against him (all in the opening game), served with power and penetration and found an excellent rhythm on his forehand. The double-handed backhand is normally the Murray stroke that takes the eye, but here it was his inside-out forehand, which he consistently drove wide of the left-handed Nieminen's outstretched racket.
There have been times during the Scot's recent moderate run when his serve has looked shaky, but on this occasion he put 63 per cent of his first serves in court and hit 18 aces. Although he rarely ventured to the net, there was hardly any need. Murray rallied confidently from the back of the court, cleverly varying the pace of his shots and mixing big ground strokes with deft drop shots. For the most part he was happy to play a patient game, manoeuvring himself into winning positions.
Once the first game had been successfully negotiated, Murray took command. Nieminen, who has a solid all-court game but has no major weapons at his disposal, was broken in his first service game, after which Murray served out for the first set. The only break in the second set came in the seventh game, when Murray hit a half-volley winner as Nieminen slipped at the back of the court after the Scot had sent him scurrying from side to side.
Nieminen was broken again in the first and seventh games of the third set, which ended with Murray serving out to love. The Queen, for once, joined in the applause, perhaps happy that the match was over. Murray admitted that he had been nervous before both the match and his meeting with the Queen – who had met a number of other current and former players before the start of play – but added: "I think both went OK." He would not disclose details of what he said was a private conversation. "It was just a quick chat," he said. "I'm sure she's very busy."
The Scot said he had not found her presence a distraction. "It's obviously an honour and a privilege to play in front of the Queen, but when we're playing, it's our job to be able to put that to the back of our minds," he said. "I don't know whether she'll be coming in the next few years, but I definitely enjoyed it."
Simon, Murray's next opponent, was No 6 in the world rankings at the start of last year but has had serious knee problems and is now down to No 32. The 25-year-old Frenchman, who earned his place in the third round when Illya Marchenko pulled out before their match with a shoulder injury, has a languid style that is best suited to clay. He has never gone beyond the fourth round here and has lost his last three matches against Murray.
"He's a tough player," Murray said. "He was at the top of the game before he got hurt. He's a very difficult player to play against, very unorthodox. It will be a tough match if we both play well."
Rafael Nadal had plenty of uncomfortable moments before overcoming Robin Haase, a 23-year-old Dutchman ranked No 151 in the world. Haase needed on-court treatment for a foot problem but still took the world No 1 to five sets. Nadal eventually won 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3.
Despite Mahut's defeat, it was a good day for Frenchmen, with Simon, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Jérémy Chardy and Julien Benneteau all joining Arnaud Clement and Gaël Monfils in the third round. Tsonga,though, was made to struggle by Alexandr Dolgopolov in a match lasting almost four hours. The world No 10 eventually won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 5-7, 10-8. Chardy also needed five sets to beat Lukas Lacko, as did Julien Benneteau in overcoming Andreas Beck.
Robin Soderling maintained his run of form with a quickfire victory over Spain's Marcel Granollers, 7-5, 6-1, 6-4. The Swede now faces Brazil's Thomaz Bellucci, who beat Austria's Martin Fisher in four sets.
Jamie Murray did not have as successful a day as his brother, Andy, but could be proud of his performance alongside his regular doubles partner, Jonny Marray. The Britons took Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic, the top seeds, to five sets before losing 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-7, 15-13.
Queen's big day out: Murray bows for a rare royal occasion on Centre Court
A Czech, a German and several Americans have all enjoyed the soubriquet "Queen of Centre Court" down the years but yesterday they were upstaged by the genuine article, as the monarch attended Wimbledon for the first time since 1977, which in turn was the first time since 1962. She prefers her athletes to come with four legs and sheepskin nosebands.
Still, the Queen at first seemed moderately interested in events on Centre Court, taking her seat at the front of the Royal Box shortly before Andy Murray – the only one of her loyal subjects left in singles competition – disposed of the Finn, Jarkko Nieminen, in straight sets. Murray had earlier indicated – without giving much away as to the extent of his royalist fervour though one imagines it is limited – that he would need some coaching in bowing protocol. In the event he executed the bow without too much obvious self-consciousness. Nieminen's effort was conspicuously lower, but that was the only stage of the afternoon when he outdid his opponent.
As for Her Majesty's outfit, it was a charming blue affair topped by a rather large, wonky hat. It may be, of course, that she knew the effort of keeping it aloft would keep her awake.
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