Wimbledon: Andy Murray keeps his cool but has room to improve
Andy Murray will need to play better in the days ahead if he is to win a second Wimbledon title but the 28-year-old Scot still got his latest campaign off to a winning start in straight sets here yesterday.
There were times when Murray struggled to impose his game on Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin, but he still won 6-4 7-6 6-4 to secure a second-round meeting with Dutchman Robin Haase.
It is all too easy to dismiss the abilities of a player like Kukushkin. On his day, the World No 59 can be a test for the very best, as he showed here 12 months ago when he got the better of Rafael Nadal for more than an hour before losing in four sets.
Going for his shots and hitting the ball low and flat, with very little margin for error, the 27-year-old repeatedly had Murray on the back foot, denying him the chance to force the pace.
"You obviously want to go out there and perform as best you can, whereas I didn't feel like I was able to do that because of the way that he was playing," Murray said.
On a scorching afternoon, Murray might have become even more hot and bothered if Kukushkin had taken his chances at the end of the second set.
"It was definitely hot," Murray said. "I haven't played loads of matches on that court when it has been as warm as that. The on-court temperature, I was told, was 41 degrees.
"That changes the way the court plays and the way the match plays out, too. I was glad to get off after three sets, a couple of hours, because ideally you don't want to be playing extremely long matches in those conditions."
There have been years when Murray has been so nervous going into Wimbledon that he has broken out into mouth ulcers, but not this time.
"I still had goosebumps and butterflies in the stomach when I walked out, but I didn't get myself too worked up last night or this morning," he said.
The first set went with serve until Kukushkin served at 4-5, whereupon he saved two set points before putting a backhand beyond the baseline on the third. Murray had not had to defend any break points in the opening set, but there were three breaks of serve apiece in a second set of fluctuating fortunes.
The Scot was two points away from winning it when he served at 5-3 and 30-0, but for the next quarter of an hour he struggled to put in first serves.
Kukushkin (below with Murray) broke serve twice in a row to go 6-5 up and also went within two points of taking the set when he served at 30-0. However, that was the moment for his forehand to wobble. Kukushkin made four successive forehand errors to let Murray level at 6-6 and then win the tie-break 7-3.
Murray had put only 48 per cent of his first serves in court in the second set, but he soon put things right in the third. He broke to go 3-2 up and eventually secured victory after two hours and 12 minutes when Kukushkin put a backhand wide.
"I lost my serve a bit in the end of that second set," Murray said. "There was a period where I missed 10 or 12 first serves in a row and let him back into it.
"He played some really good stuff at times and was going for his shots. When he was on the run, he was taking the ball up the line, going very hard and flat. I found it difficult to play aggressive tennis out there."
Murray now plays Haase tomorrow. The Dutchman won their first encounter seven years ago, but the Scot has won their subsequent three meetings, which have all been in Grand Slams.
The 28-year-old, who overcame Colombia's Alejandro Falla 6-2 3-6 6-4 6-2 yesterday, has been as high as 33rd in the rankings but now lies 78th.