There is to be no emotional rendezvous for Andy Murray against the first opponent he ever encountered as a professional. In April 2005 in Barcelona, the 17 year-old Scot, ranked 397 in the world, was beaten after winning the opening set of his first match on the tour by by Jan Hernych from Prague.
Today Hernych, once ranked No 59 but now 34 years old and only 285 – a qualifier and the lowest-ranked player in the second round – was on Court 18 trying to earn a rematch in very different circumstances. But after drawing level at one set each, he finished well beaten by Roberto Bautista Agut, a 26-year-old Spaniard likely to provide a far more formidable opponent for the defending champion.
Bautista Agut is a man in form, enjoying much the best season of his career, which has improved his ranking from 58 at the end of last year to 23. The highlights have included reaching the round of 16 at the Australian Open, beating Juan Martin del Potro; a good performance in losing 6-4, 6-3 to his compatriot Rafael Nadal in the Madrid semi-final last month; followed by two wins at the French Open and then a tournament victory on grass at s'Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands.
Murray has not met him before, but said: "I practised with him quite a lot, [including] in Valencia before the tournament in Madrid. He's a very good player. He doesn't play like a lot of the Spanish guys, he plays very flat, not much topspin. The grass courts suit his game pretty well. He's obviously started well here. It will be a step up for sure. I think he's probably in the top 20 in the world now and he's improving all the time."
In the previous round here, Bautista Agut beat American Steve Johnson for the third time this year and was rewarded with a place on a show court against Hernych. On Friday it may well be Centre Court, where the crowd will not be endeared with the grunt with which the Spaniard hits every shot. It was much in evidence as he whipped forehands and serves of up to 123mph at Hernych. The service was rarely followed by a sortie to the net, which meant he was occasionally caught out by a drop-shot, but after conceding the second set he ran away with the match 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
Last night he cited the victory over Del Potro in January as an important breakthrough: "After that I felt I could beat every player. I'm not scared [of Murray], I'm winning a lot of matches and I'll try to be aggressive and enjoy it."
"He has had a good year," his coach Pepe Vendrell told The Independent. "His other big match was against Rafa in Madrid. Now we want to enjoy the moment before thinking about playing Andy."