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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Murray triumphs after tough tussle

Photo Titled Murray backhand
Murray backhand

The first hurdle has been cleared and Andy Murray is through to the second round of The Championships. It was not his greatest performance – although it was a match his opponent will probably treasure for months to come – but it was just enough to get the job done.

Murray won 7-5, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-4 and his 2009 campaign was under way.

As he raised his arms in victory, so began Britain’s annual fortnight of madness. A nation that has made a virtue of reticence and a trademark of the stiff upper lip lets out its stays, paints its face, waves its flag and acts like a lunatic as the object of the country’s affection tries to make his way through the draw.

The moment came at 5.09pm as Murray, Britain’s top man and the world’s third best player, opened his 2009 campaign against Robert Kendrick. Andymonium had begun. Admittedly, it started slowly but over the course of two hours and 38 minutes, it built up a full head of steam.

After a decade or more of Tim Henman’s white-knuckle rides on Centre Court, the crowd is still not entirely sure about Mr Murray. His three previous visits here have been marked, in the most part, by simple, controlled wins so allowing the flag-waving faithful little chance to get involved. This was not what they had come to expect when watching a Brit.

It was only last year that they really play their part, helping to pull him through a five-set thriller with Richard Gasquet in the fourth round. That was more like it – their boy needed them and they were happy to deliver. But it was not to last.

This year the fans will have noted Murray’s rise through the rankings and his seemingly routine wins over the biggest and the best. Clearly they were not needed. Murray knew how to win by himself. Now what were they going to do?

But the Centre Court crowd is a loyal group. As Murray scampered to a 4-2 lead in his opening match, the applause was warm and ever-so-slightly relieved. Maybe the crowd really could have a night off and just kick back, enjoy the tennis and have some fun.

Murray was all over Kendrick. The 29-year-old American was as tight as a drum while Murray was clattering his serve, finding his spot with his groundstrokes and passing Kendrick almost at will. Some of his shots were not so much inch-perfect as millimetre-perfect.

But sometimes life can be just a bit too easy. For about 10 minutes, Murray let his concentration waver just slightly. At that very moment, Kendrick relaxed – and that is never a good combination for a chap hoping to reach the far end of the second week of the tournament.

Kendrick has the sort of game that is brilliant when it works and a liability when it is slightly off. He can serve like a rocket, he can hit the ball so hard that you would think it could pierce concrete – and he had absolutely nothing to lose.

As he grabbed back the break of serve, he started flinging himself around the court like a teenage Boris Becker and had clearly decided that attack was the best form of defence. If Kendrick was going to win, he would have to try every trick in the book; if he was going to lose, he was determined to enjoy his time on the main show court. Even when Murray took the first set, the American would not go away and chased Britain’s great hope all the way to the second set tiebreak and beyond.

But the difference between Murray this year and the Murray of 2008 is that now he knows he has it in him to win a Grand Slam title. Now he feels like he belongs at the top end of the rankings. And now he knows how to win even when he is not playing at his brightest and best.

And so Murray kept at it. He chased and harried and, in between times, found himself involved in some spectacular rallies. If this had been anyone other than Murray playing, the crowd would have loved every second – as it was, they enjoyed themselves but still had their nervous moments. And the more they reckoned Murray needed a bit of support, the louder they got.

Only in the fourth set could everyone relax and just marvel at Kendrick’s pluck (a trait he obviously picked up from the locals during his long stay in Britain in the run-up to Wimbledon) and Murray’s skill.

It was not a brilliant start to the Scot’s campaign but it was good enough to get him through to the next round. Kendrick played well beyond his No.76 ranking while the Scot knows he has considerable room for improvement.

With a little luck and a prevailing wind, he should have a good few rounds left yet to hone his game to perfection. And if he gets himself into a spot of bother, there is always the crowd to help him through. Andymonium has begun.

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