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Wimbledon: Highs and lows in front of Centre Court crowd is all part of the quest for glory

By Ed Curran

Published 29/06/2016

Scots support: Andy Murray had plenty of followers watching on Henman Hill
Scots support: Andy Murray had plenty of followers watching on Henman Hill

The skirl of the bagpipe wafted over Wimbledon yesterday, a strange phenomenon in this sporting heart of Middle England.

But then Scottish, as well as British, hero Andy Murray was on Centre Court starting his quest for another Wimbledon title and raising the hopes of even the English in the crowd after their night before of despair against Iceland.

Up on Murray Mount - long gone is Henman Hill - Andy's legions of fans had gathered in their thousands, boosting the crowd to well over 40,000. After a bruising week for British politics and English football, Murray is the man who might restore national pride.

However, he will face much stiffer opposition than he did yesterday. The spectators were strangely subdued, perhaps because his opponent was young Liam Broady, ranked 235th in the world and unlikely to unduly test Murray's mettle.

No Union flags, not even a Saltire, appeared among the crowd, a polite response to the appearance of two Brits at one time on Centre Court and the fact that on one side of the net was a Wimbledon champion and on the other, a rookie.

In the end, Murray dispatched Broady in three comfortable sets, which told us little about whether the Great British hopeful was still in the form of his life, to progress to another final, probably with his arch-rival Novak Djokovic.

Serena Williams' performance produced a glimmer of her immense talents as she set out to equal Steffi Graf's record of 22 Slam triumphs.

The years may be creeping on for the 34-year-old but when she unleashes her serve or forehand, few can deal with it.

As she strutted imperiously onto Centre Court, it seemed as if even the navy-clad ball boys and girls were kneeling in the Queen of Wimbledon's honour.

In full cry, Williams was a sight to behold, her white Nike designer skirt swirling up towards her shoulders.

Watching her from the Royal Box was Strictly Come Dancing's fashionista presenter Tess Daly and her husband Vernon Kay, but even they might have blushed had one of Strictly's contestants dared to perform an American jive in Serena's minimalist skirt.

More seriously, the World No. 1 defended her patchy performance as "a solid start". Asked about her veteran status at Wimbledon, she said: "I would be lying if I said I felt fresh but I don't feel fatigued. I feel as motivated as ever."

At the end of her match with Amra Sadikovic, Williams signed autographs for the group of Chelsea pensioners in their scarlet tunics, who had sat courtside directly in the firing line of the champion's 120 miles an hour wide serve.

Wimbledon wouldn't be Wimbledon without the rain. As the crowds on other courts dashed for shelter, those who had Centre Court tickets were comforted in the knowledge that the great roof above them would slide across.

When it did, Caroline Wozniacki provided the glamour but not much else against tough opponent Svetlana Kuznetsova. For Wozniacki it was a far cry from sitting at the Kingspan cheering on Ulster with her ex-beau, Rory McIlroy. On Centre Court, she had plenty of male admirers. Squeezed out narrowly of the first set 7-6, she went down in the second 6-4.

Wimbledon with the covers on and limited shelter for so many spectators can be a dismal sight, disappointing when the weather closes in and play is suspended for the day other than on Centre Court.

Murray appeared in the interview room and was giving little away about his prospects other than to hope he could have a "quick" week, by which he meant more three straight setters like yesterday.

Asked about Nike's tennis attire as displayed by Williams, he did manage a smile: "I have never had too many issues with the shortness of my shorts."

Wozniacki looked as sad as the weather outside. The former World No. 1 has had a torrid time on and off the court, not least her acrimonious split from McIlroy, followed by injuries and poor results.

"It sucks to be out. It's been a tough year," she told us. "If I had read everything that has been written about me in the past 15 years I would have jumped over a cliff by now."

Such is the other world of tennis and Wimbledon and all the more so on a dismal evening. At least the Chelsea pensioners could go home relieved to know that none of Williams' serves had hit them.

Belfast Telegraph

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