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Andy Murray knows all about Rola's powerful set of weaponry

By John Skilbeck

The older a player gets the fewer new experiences there are to enjoy, but Andy Murray continues to find them. In recent days the Scot has become the first holder of a Grand Slam title to appoint a female coach, the first Briton for 78 years to walk out on Centre Court as defending Wimbledon men's singles champion and, as far as we are aware, the first top-10 player to guest-edit The Beano.

Today will provide another new experience: a first match against a Slovene who speaks near-perfect English with an American accent and hopes he will not – to use his own words – "poop his pants" on his debut on a major Grand Slam stage.

Blaz Rola, a 23-year-old graduate in international business management from Ohio State University, is an unknown quantity to most people in tennis, given that he had never played a match on the main tour until the start of this year.

Until he successfully qualified for the Australian Open in January, Rola's only experience of international tournament tennis had been on the Futures and Challenger circuits.

He has played only five matches at tour level, but three of them have been in Britain: he lost to Britain's James Ward at Queen's Club a fortnight ago and to Carlos Berlocq at Eastbourne last week before recording the first grass-court win of his career here on Monday against Spain's Pablo Andujar.

Rola is 6ft 4in tall, left-handed and already ranked No 92 in the world, which is 424 places above where he was 12 months ago.

Murray, however, being a walking encyclopedia of modern tennis, knows what to expect. He recently watched Rola lose to Ward twice in the space of three weeks, in qualifying for the French Open and in the first round of the Aegon Championships.

"He's a big guy," Murray said. "He takes chances. He goes for his shots. He probably doesn't have much grass-court experience because he hasn't been on the tour that long.

"He's going to do well, for sure, because he has weapons. He can generate power from the back of the court. He moves pretty well for a big guy, too."

Rola's parents, sister and girlfriend are all here. "I will have a party afterwards, for sure," he said. "I'm not used to all this attention. It's funny walking into all these different interviews. I didn't know the press conference room was so big. Every time you see the video it looks like a small room with a couple of people in it."

Rola said he had never met Murray but had been aware of the Scot since the latter's teenage years at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, which the Slovene briefly attended.

"I remember how Andy was so skinny when he was playing there and now he is a beast," Rola said.

"As far as work ethic, he is one of the hardest workers and definitely someone I look up to. I guess the fact Andy had done so well was one of the main reasons why I was (at the academy)."

Murray was asked if Amélie Mauresmo, who succeeded Ivan Lendl as the world No 5's coach three weeks ago, knew anything about Rola.

"No more or less than Ivan would," Murray said. "For 10 years Ivan didn't watch hardly any tennis except for the end of majors, basically. He knew quite a lot about the higher-ranked guys, but he wouldn't have watched Rola play before. Amélie, I'm sure, will watch video and scout."

With his opening match over, was Murray relieved that he would no longer have to answer questions about what it might feel like to walk on to Centre Court as defending champion?

"I've been asked a about it a lot over the last couple of months," he said. "Even if you feel fine about it in your head and people ask you about it every single day it starts to become a bigger deal."

Did he now expect a "normal" Wimbledon? "I think so. I don't see much changing." If he wins there will be no more American-sounding Slovenes in his path.

Belfast Telegraph


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