Murray raises the roof of No1 Court as fans cheer his ‘fun’ return
“The fun is back,” Andy Murray said last night, after opening his new Wimbledon career with a four-set win. The oddity here was that he had never seemed to enjoy himself much in his old incarnation as a singles player.
When Murray was a contender for the biggest prizes here, he used to be serious and game-faced in his press conferences – burdened by the overwhelming stress that left him nursing mouth ulcers in the build-up to each Wimbledon. He found such exalted competition satisfying, but hardly joyful, because there was simply too much at stake.
But when Murray joined his partner Pierre-hugues Herbert in the interview room yesterday, he was so relaxed that you could have pictured him playing a banjo in a hammock on his front porch.
It is not that he has lost any of his competitive edge. Murray and Herbert were constantly geeing each other up as they looked to put the squeeze on their opponents, Ugo Humbert and Marius Copil.
Yes, they want to win the title, and on the evidence of this victory, they have a shot at doing so. But Murray is a different man now that he has looked outside the narrow confines of an elite sportsman’s life.
Even if the past two years were miserable for much of the time, they have taught him a broader perspective, and helped him appreciate the unique privilege of playing on the show courts at a slam.
“It just feels different than before,” said the new-look, chilled-out Murray. “I don’t know if that will change over time, but I don’t have huge expectations. I just want to go out, enjoy the match, give the best effort that I’ve got. Winning is nice, but it’s not the most important thing, which maybe it used to be.”
Murray began edgily, especially on serve. In a short-format contest on the ATP tour – like the other five matches Murray has played with different partners at Queen’s and Eastbourne – a cold start would probably have spelt curtains. But Wimbledon is the last event where “gentlemen’s doubles” is played over the best-of-five sets.
Copil and Humbert claimed the first set, and deservedly so. But this was the awkward breaking-the-ice phase of the Murray-herbert partnership. Once the starters were finished, their understanding began to blossom. By the time Murray swatted away the final forehand volley, we were almost in log fire and brandy glasses territory.
If Feliciano Lopez looked like a perfect match for Murray during their run to the Queen’s title, then Herbert also scored top marks on tennis Tinder. He might not have Lopez’s power on the serve, but his hand skills are exquisite and his reflex reactions uncanny.
Murray, meanwhile, set himself up to return from the advantage side of the court – Herbert’s preferred position – because that is where most break-point opportunities crop up. He wants to be in the firing line when the key moments arise, and his mastery of Humbert’s left-handed serve was such that Humbert was broken on six of his eight attempts at a hold.
If doubles is about trust, then Murray and Herbert are already bonding nicely. There was one moment when they both tried to smash the same lob, which threatened to turn nasty until Murray ducked at the last second. Otherwise, they left few holes on the court, and even experimented with the I-formation, in which one partner knelt down like a sprinter while the serve passed overhead.
For Herbert, one of the many advantages to partnering Murray is that all their matches will be played on No 1 Court or Centre, making overnight suspensions unlikely. The new No1 roof closed ahead of the fourth set yesterday, whereas Jamie Murray was left stranded with his even newer partner, Neal Skupski, on Court 18, having taken a 6-2, 6-7, 6-3 lead over Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek. The two Murrays could face each other in the third round in what would be a nightmare scenario for mother Judy.
First, there will be another new relationship for Andy to work on with Serena Williams, in tonight’s outing against Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi. As Guarachi said yesterday, when asked about the standard mixed-doubles tactic of hitting to the weaker player, “I’m not sure they have a weaker player!”
Clicking into gear: Andy Murray (top) with partner Pierre-hugues Herbert