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Is the stage set for one last great Wimbledon drama from the old guard?


By Ed Curran

On a sun-kissed Sunday, Wimbledon never looked better. At noon, the champion and father-to-be again, Andy Murray talked down the hip injury which prevented him from practicing last week for three days.

No matter how hard journalists pressed him about the injury, Murray managed a positive response in his usual sombre Scottish tones.

"I've had hip problems since I was very young," he confessed, as much as saying the severe pain and difficulty in moving which he has recently experienced is nothing new and did not prevent him in the past from winning Wimbledon last year and becoming the World Number One.

His long, sinewy fingers clasped together and occasionally twiddled with the wedding ring on his left hand. He said he would study some video shots of Alexander Bulbik, his opponent in the opening round, ranked 134 places below him, and despite Murray's hip setback, not expected to trouble him unduly.

Murray said he felt much better and confident his body would hold up through the long Wimbledon test which requires seven potentially five-set matches to become champion again. However he admitted the experience of opening the championships as the defending champion on the Centre Court would bring with it "a few more nerves".

DAY ONE ORDER OF PLAY: Wimbledon: Have a look at the opening day's order of play as Murray, Nadal and Kvitova all begin

Under a clear blue sky, the Centre Court stood pristine awaiting his presence, not a blade of manicured grass out of place. On Court 18, a groundsman edged the turf while two helpers manually swept up the grass cuttings. Last minute attention to detail was everywhere.

Rafael Nadal and his entourage walked purposely towards the outdoor practice courts. Stan Wawrinka was out early to practice, as well he might given that the world number three was facing a banana-skin first-round encounter with the promising 21-year-old Russian, Danill Medvedev. It was the last chance for many to hone their games before the gates opened and play begins today.

As Nadal walked up the steep path to the practice area, several hundred security staff in distinctive navy-blue suits and peaked caps gathered on Murray Mount for a full day's 'familiarisation' with every corner of Wimbledon.

They lined up in the shade under the Number One Court and assembled inside the Centre Court, checking entrances and exits, and ensuring they knew what would be required in the event of an emergency or evacuation.

The presence of some 300,000 spectators over the next fortnight is a huge security challenge, impossible to underestimate in the dangerous world of 2017, when major sports and entertainment remain the focus of terrorist attention in Britain and elsewhere.

Security aside, tradition remains at the heart of Wimbledon. The food courts and bars were stocking up for the fortnight. Kentish strawberries, picked each day at 4am and delivered to Wimbledon before 11am, price £2.50. A glass of Pimms No 1, £8.50, or a strawberry Pimms with a hint of mint - £6.50.

The spire of St Mary's Church dominated the skyline over the Wimbledon courts. The world of professional tennis is a far cry from Wimbledon's sedate amateur roots but the great traditions remain, enshrined in the motto on display around the grounds: 'In pursuit of greatness'.

There was no sign of the legend that is Roger Federer yesterday, but the appearance of the seven-times champion is perhaps more eagerly anticipated than that of any other player in this year's draw. Though seeded five, given the injuries and doubts surrounding other top seeds, Federer will disappoint if he doesn't reach the final and prove that, even at 35 years old, he can win again.

One of his great rivals, Novak Djokovic, was on hand at Wimbledon to talk to the media.

"I used to think all my happiness was in winning a tennis match... I don't do that any more," he confessed.

Virtually unbeatable in the past, Djokovic says he has a changing set of values for his life which he sees as a "constant evolution process".

The next fortnight will tell whether the philosophical Djovokic can re-adjust his lifestyle and still have the appetite to win Wimbledon, but little he said yesterday suggested he retains the drive he had in the past.

So the scene is set for an unusually unpredictable Wimbledon. Will Murray's hip last a fortnight? Has Djokvokic still the will to win? Is Nadal going to eclipse them all as he did at the French Open? Will the virtually middle-aged Federer steal legendary glory? Or will this be the year of the changing of the old guard, with a new face lifting the trophy in two weeks time?

Whoever wins, the 2017 Wimbledon championships promise of being 'in pursuit of greatness' will definitely be met.

Belfast Telegraph


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