That’s torn it. If Amelie Mauresmo was hoping for a quiet introduction to British tennis, Andy Murray’s straight-sets defeat at the Aegon Championships at London’s Queen’s Club yesterday put the kibosh on it.
At this time of year, Murray is the centre of the universe for all British tennis fans. It was bad enough before he won Wimbledon – then a desperate nation just hoped that he could win – but now that he is the defending champion, everyone knows that he can win in SW19. Now it is his duty to win it again. And if Mauresmo, the Scot’s new coach and mentor, thought the pressure on her at Roland Garros was unbearable, she ain’t seen nothing yet.
Murray’s third round, 7-6, 6-2 loss to Radek Stepanek will set nerves jangling: he will have had only two competitive grass court matches before the defence of his Wimbledon crown; he was beaten yesterday by a man ranked 37 places below him; it was his first loss in almost two years on the green stuff. Looked at baldly, it seems to be a terrible start to Murray’s grass court season but, in truth, he will not be too bothered. Nearly two hours spent trying to tame a wily old tactician – Stepanek is 35 years old and has been collecting celebrity scalps for a lifetime – was a reasonable work-out even if failing to convert eight set points in the first set tiebreak was a bit disappointing.
“I blew the first set and that was my fault,” Murray said. “I thought the first set was a pretty high standard, to be honest. I thought he served pretty well throughout the whole match. I have only got myself to blame that I lost the first set.
“I don’t know how many set points I had, but quite a lot of them were on my serve. On this surface especially you shouldn’t really be losing sets like that. For me, that’s what’s disappointing really about the match. Then unfortunately I got broken in the first game of the second set. I couldn’t quite get it back. The problem for me was that he served well and I didn’t return his first serve well at all. I think I only won like four points on his first serve return over, what was it, ten service games, something like that? That’s not enough to put any pressure on him.”
Murray will now have a couple of days off to rest and relax before returning to Queen’s Club on Sunday for the “Rally for Bally” charity exhibition match in honour of Elena Baltacha. After that, it is back to the serious business of training and practice to prepare for Wimbledon – and that will start on Sunday night once the spectators and film crews have gone home.
He will play one exhibition match at the Hurlingham Club next Thursday but, apart from that, he will be trying to keep himself away from the hype and the hoopla that surrounds The Championships at the All England Club. Mauresmo, no doubt, will be having a lie down in a darkened room.
Yesterday was only their second day in harness together and, at the moment, they are still getting to know each other. Mauresmo also has to get to know the rest of the team – in all there were seven members of his gang sitting at the courtside yesterday – and simply exchanging all those phone numbers and e-mail addresses can take a morning. Just to make her initiation all the harder, her every move, along with Murray’s, is being watched, filmed and photographed as the hysteria builds before Wimbledon.
“I was going to have a few days off as soon as I was finished here whether I won the tournament or not,” Murray said. “So, if I’d done well and reached the final, I’d have taken Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday off probably, so in some ways, it [losing early] can be good providing I use next week properly if I get some good practice in and work on the right things and get some good training done. That can obviously help.
“I look forward to now going back to Wimbledon and getting myself ready and getting some practice in the peace and quiet for three or four days before the tournament starts. Obviously it’s probably going to get quite hectic towards the end of next week so the next few days will be nice just to have a bit of peace and quiet and then get ready for Wimbledon.”
Last year, Murray had two weeks to prepare for the Queen’s Club event. He had missed the French Open thanks to his ailing back and spent that fortnight easing his way back on the slippery, lush grass of south west London. As a result, his movement and technique was in fine fettle for the start of the tournament even if he was a little shy of match play. Twelve months on and the situation is reversed: Murray has played more than enough tennis over the last few weeks and now he just needs time on the practice courts to make the necessary technical adjustments to his game. And losing yesterday merely gives him more time to do just that.
“I’ve played well on the grass the last few years,” he said. “I just need to get on the practice court. I need to spend some time on this surface to get used to it. I need to spend time on the surface before I feel my most comfortable. That’s what I’ll need to do over the next ten days. Hopefully the weather will hold up well so I can get as much time as possible.”
The long range weather forecast is good for the next couple of weeks and, despite yesterday’s loss, the forecast for Murray’s Wimbledon is looking equally sunny.