On a day when a sporting earthquake struck Court One, barely a tremor was felt less than 200 yards away as Andy Murray opened his Wimbledon campaign here on Monday with barely a stumble.
While the earth was opening up to swallow Rafael Nadal on the second show court, over on Centre Court Murray needed less than two hours to book his place in the second round with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Germany’s Benjamin Becker.
Less than 10 months after his last appearance here, when he beat Roger Federer in the Olympic final, Murray demonstrated again what a master of grass-court tennis he has become. The 26-year-old Scot played with the confidence of a man who has now won his last 12 matches on the surface, his latest victory securing his place as the most successful British man in Grand Slam history. This was his 107th victory at the game’s highest level, which takes him one clear of Fred Perry.
Murray would have to win six more matches over the next two weeks to replace Perry as the last British man to win the Wimbledon singles title — Perry recorded the last of his three victories here in 1936 — but the world No 2 could hardly have made a better start. Becker is a decent grass-court player, but the 32-year-old German never looked capable of causing Murray any serious trouble.
'There are always nerves before the first match of a Grand Slam, especially here for me,' Murray said afterwards. 'I’m glad to get it out of the way and hopefully I’ll keep improving.'
In a short space of time Murray has put all the worries of last month behind him. Since pulling out of the French Open with a recurrence of a lower back problem, the Scot has nursed himself back to health and prepared cautiously for the grass-court season before putting himself in position for his biggest challenge by winning at Queen’s Club 10 days ago.
It remains to be seen how he will cope when he is pushed harder in best-of-five-set matches — this was the first he had played since the Australian Open final in January — but as an opening salvo he could hardly have been more impressive. He now faces the world No 75, Yen Hsun-Lu, of Chinese Taipei, who beat Britain’s James Ward.
If there was less of the bold attacking tennis that took Murray to last year’s Wimbledon final and Olympic gold, he still struck the ball well, moved smoothly across the slick Centre Court grass and kept his opponent under relentless pressure. In cool conditions that were not ideal for flowing tennis, Murray looked a class act.
Becker has a place in history as the last man to play a competitive match against Andre Agassi, at the 2006 US Open. He shares his surname, initials and nationality with one of the most famous players in Wimbledon history, but that is about as far as the similarities with Boris Becker go. The world No 95 has won only title in his career, though it was on grass, in the Netherlands four years ago.
The only previous meeting between Becker and Murray was at Queen’s Club a fortnight ago, when the Scot won their quarter-final in straight sets. Becker, nevertheless, has had a decent grass-court season, having reached the final at the Nottingham Challenger in his first tournament, which had followed seven successive first-round defeats on clay and hard courts.
It was clear from the first point, a 14-shot rally which ended with the German hitting a backhand long, that Becker also felt comfortable on the surface. Murray had to save a break point in the opening game with a cool volley behind a big serve, but it was not long before the Scot started to turn the screw.
In the fourth game Murray created his first break point with a backhand winner down the line and promptly converted it by forcing Becker into a backhand error. The German, serving consistently well, saved two break points two games later and broke back when Murray played his only loose game, but the world No 2 quickly took charge again, breaking for the second time to take the opening set.
Becker held on in the second set until he served at 3-4. A return winner gave Murray break point, upon which the Scot, attacking the net, forced his opponent into another mistake. Having served out for the second set with an ace, Murray took his tennis up another level in the third. Becker, wilting under the pressure as the Scot increasingly went for his shots, began to struggle on his serve and was broken twice before Murray served out for the match after an hour and 53 minutes.
'I thought it was a good match,' Murray said. 'I thought he played some very solid tennis. He didn’t give much away. He served very well, especially in the first two sets. I just managed to get breakthroughs at the end of the first two sets and in the third set I started to play a little bit better and his serve dropped a bit. It was a tough start. He’s a very good grass-court player.'
Asked about Nadal’s defeat, Murray said it was 'obviously surprising, but that’s sport'. He added: 'Rafa’s not played on the grass this year and obviously didn’t play much last year either. [Steve] Darcis won against [Tomas] Berdych in the Olympics. He upset him in the first round. He likes the grass courts. He’s a very talented player. If you’re a little bit off and your opponent plays some top stuff that can happen.
'I think in some ways people haven’t been expecting it the last few years because Rafa, Roger and Novak [Djokovic] have been unbelievably consistent in the Slams. No one really expects it, but that consistency can’t go on for ever. It’s obviously an upset, but it happens. It’s a strong period in tennis. There are no easy matches. From the first round you need to be ready and switched on. If you’re not then you can be upset and that’s what happened today.'