• Wimbledon

Murray gets down to business beyond the pageantry

Mark Hodgkinson
June 23, 2014
Andy Murray received a standing ovation on his triumphant return to Centre Court © PA Photos

The temptation for Andy Murray was to see this as a standing ovation with an exhibition match attached. That was not an idea that Murray entertained in the Centre Court heat, not even for a single changeover.

For the 15,000 spectators seated around this rectangle of virgin grass, this was more about celebrating the return of Britain's first men's singles champion since the 1930s than it was about Murray advancing to the second round. Though Murray would naturally have taken great pleasure from the walk-on, as he performed the defending champion's tradition of 'opening' Centre Court, he knew not to coast against Belgium's David Goffin.

Rola rolls into round two

Blaz Rola in action © AP
  • World No.94 Blaz Rola will be Andy Murray's opponent in the second round of Wimbledon after the Slovenian beat Pablo Andujar 6-3 6-1 6-4.

    The 23-year-old hit 35 winners to Andujar's six to pick up only his second win at a Grand Slam - adding to his victory at the Australian Open earlier in the year.

    Currently at the highest ranking of his career, Rola will be taking on a British player for the fourth time in 2014. Twice he has lost to James Ward, at Queen's and the final round of qualifying for the French Open, but beat Daniel Smethurst to reach the last 32 at Eastbourne.

The sight of the crowd on their feet before a ball was struck - the former NBA basketball player Shaquille O'Neal was in the Royal Box, along with Murray's father and maternal grandparents - was a thrill. But, even more importantly, the Scot is now one seventh of the way to winning this tournament for a second time.

There were a couple of reasons why, for the most part, this match was devoid of any tension (what a contrast to his last appearance on this court, also a straight-sets victory, when he defeated Novak Djokovic for the title last July). One reason was that Goffin, who looked younger than some of the ball kids, didn't have the game to hurt Murray (his nerves didn't help).

The other was that Murray appreciated there was much more to this occasion than bathing in Centre Court's love. Murray's opportunity this summer is to enjoy playing at Wimbledon; what he wouldn't have enjoyed was going out in the first round to an opponent ranked outside the world's top 100. If this was very one-sided, that was because Murray hadn't had his head turned by the experience of a standing ovation just for making his entrance and carrying his bag on to court.

"It was nice to get the round of applause, but then you sit down on the chair, and you move on from last year. It's on to this year," Murray said.

Murray took the applause, took the affection, and then took charge

So Murray took the applause, took the affection, and then took charge, ripping through Goffin in the opening set. What was more physically demanding for Murray? Stopping traffic on Sunday as he chased after a runaway dog that he would return to its owner? Or opening his tournament on Monday lunchtime?

Murray could hardly have had a more accommodating opponent than Goffin, who claims to be an inch under six feet tall, but looks smaller than that. Goffin did everything that was asked of him - he played a few entertaining strokes that drew the admiration of the galleries, but he never looked like ruining this as an event. For all Goffin's touch and talent, he simply didn't have the tennis to unseat the Wimbledon champion. It was only in the third set that Goffin started to look lively.

There was never any danger of Murray joining Lleyton Hewitt as champions to have lost on their first appearance back on the lawns. Well, the only danger was complacency. And Murray, whether a returning champion or not, has never been the complacent sort.

Mark Hodgkinson is the author of Ivan Lendl: The Man Who Made Andy Murray. He will be writing for ESPN throughout Wimbledon.

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