ANDY Murray learned little or nothing from his straight-sets win over Blaz Rola yesterday, outclassing his opponent 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 to progress serenely to the third round.
But the match, the most one-sided victory the Scot has enjoyed here, could nonetheless turn out to be of value.
Should the No 3 seed be involved in a couple of testing five-setters later in the tournament, particularly if they come in consecutive rounds, he may well be thankful for the extra energy he saved in this second-round match against the Slovenian novice. And he certainly saved a lot of energy – he may even have afforded himself the chance to dine out in one of his favoured restaurants last night.
Rola, a 23-year-old who had only previously played three matches on grass, had said before the match on No 1 Court that he hoped he would not be so overawed that he could hardly play. He succeeded, at least in the respect that he did not tighten up and play ultra-defensively.
But in fact, if anything, he went too far the other way, playing aggressively but also loosely, allowing Murray to punish his errors time after time. Indeed, on occasion all the defending champion had to do was keep feeding the Rola forehand stroke after stroke and wait for the mistake to come.
On a cool, breezy day, Murray faced just three break points over the three sets. He saved them all, just as he had saved a couple in his first-round match against David Goffin.
By contrast, Rola was broken in the opening game of the match, and rarely looked settled from there on in. He held at the second time of asking but was then broken twice more in the first set, and once he had suffered the same fate early on in the second set, his head went down.
The last minimal act of resistance came in the fourth game of the third, but once Murray had held there, Rola had nothing left to offer.
Like the Goffin match, this was another eight-out-of-ten showing by Murray. A few of his shots were sublime, but on the whole he needed to show no more than high competence. What was most impressive was his ability to maintain his concentration almost throughout, and to wrap up the victory with as little fuss as possible.
“You try to finish matches as quickly as you can,” he said later. “If you have the momentum with you and you’re playing well, that’s what you need to try to do.
“I spoke a little bit about the French Open [where he reached the semi-final] a few weeks ago, some of the matches where I was ahead, you know, I didn’t finish the sets and stuff off as best as I would have liked. So I wanted to make sure here that when I had the momentum, when I was on top, that I finished the sets off. I did that well today.
“You’re going to get tested during the tournament. Sometimes that happens in the first round, and sometimes it can happen in semi-finals. It can happen at any moment in the tournament. You just have to be ready for it and expect it before every single match.
“I go into each match expecting to lose serve, expecting to go behind, you know, so your mind is ready and you don’t get too down on yourself if that happens.
“I mean, I’m happy to come through matches as quickly as possible, but you’re going to get tested at some stage during the tournament. Obviously the further you go in the draw, the tougher the matches are going to get.”
The closest Murray came to being disconcerted was a point at deuce which the umpire forced him to replay after a ball fell out of his shorts. “It has happened a few times to me over the years,” he admitted. “Adidas [who make the shorts] have tried to make some changes, but it keeps happening. I don’t know why it is.
“They change regularly – they’re not the same shorts all of the time. They are different. I don’t know why it happens – I don’t know if I’m not putting the ball deep enough into the pocket – that is possible. It doesn’t happen often during the match. I haven’t played many matches where it has happened more than once, but I don’t really know why it happens.”
There were a few shouts of “Come on Blaz” during the match, one or two of them from British spectators who seemed moved to pity the underdog. Murray himself said he could not afford to feel any sympathy for his opponent.
“To be honest, you just try to win the match. I talk about it a lot. You put a lot of hours of practice and hard work, training, all the stuff you do in the gym for these tournaments. It hurts a lot of the time.
“When you’re in a position to win a match like that, you have to try and do it as quickly as possible, because all of the players in this tournament are very, very good tennis players. If you give them a look in in a set or they see a way back in, they can start playing very well. You just try to keep it going.”
Murray’s next opponent in tomorrow’s third round – almost certainly back on Centre Court, and most likely the third match of the day – will be Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain.
The 26-year-old, who is now on the verge of the world top 20 after a long apprenticeship, won 7-5, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 against Jan Hernych, the 27th seed from the Czech Republic.
“I’m not scared,” Bautista Agut said of his next opponent. “I will try to play my game. I am winning a lot of matches.
“I will try to be aggressive, to play my game, I will try to enjoy to play with Andy here on grass.”
Having beaten former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro en route to the fourth round of the Australian Open at the start of the year, Bautista Agut has more realistic hopes of upsetting Murray than Rola could ever entertain. Even so, on the form he showed yesterday, the British No 1 should have more than enough to ensure safe passage into the second week of the tournament.