Unscathed, untroubled and playing, at times, extremely well, the top seed eased his way past Yen-Hsun Lu 6-4, 7-4 in 79 orderly, controlled minutes and will meet Fernando Verdasco tomorrow.
Normally, even the very best grass court exponents spend their first couple of matches on the green stuff slipping and sliding, huffing and groaning as they try to come to terms with the slick surface beneath their feet while, at the same time, trying to shake the memories of two months on the slow clay from their minds. Murray, though, looked sharp enough from the start, steady enough on his feet and, by the end of the second set, he looked altogether too strong, too sharp and too experienced for the man from Chinese Taipei.
“Actually feel like I moved well today, which is pleasing,” he said. “Obviously normally the first couple of days on the grass when I’ve played here, I have actually slipped a lot and fallen over a couple of times. But I felt like I moved and changed direction pretty well today. That was good. I didn’t start the match off serving so well but I got that rhythm more in the second set but I felt like I hit the ball well from the back of the court. I feel I could have served a bit better.”
Murray has been sponsored by the American sports clothing company since the start of the year but, while they have managed to fit him out in shorts and shirts, the shoes have been something of a problem. They have been trying to sort out Murray’s feet since March and, while they almost got his clay court shoes right – almost but not quite – they have, Murray feels, scored a direct hit with the grass court trainers. Now they just have to get him some white underpants (yesterday’s were grey under his all-white kit) and he will be ready for Wimbledon’s fearsome “almost entirely white” clothing rule.
Still, Murray was in his element in front of his home crowd who welcomed him home like a long-lost son – polite applause for Lu and a hearty cheer for the local hero. The court may only have been half-full when he walked out, but even so, Murray was the focus of everyone’s attention. The centre court faithful had just spent more than two hours watching Rafael Nadal lose to Alexandr Dolgopolov and were in desperate need of refreshment (the Queen’s Club toffs are never knowingly under-hydrated). But they soon sped back, Pimms in hands, to watch their boy do what he does best.
“It’s great to play in front of a home crowd, packed stadiums in all of the matches,” Murray said. “It makes it a great atmosphere, helps you lift your game. In all sports, it’s a benefit to play at home and for some reason, the media tell the tennis players that it’s a huge pressure to play at home. There is pressure but it’s great to play in front of a home crowd and get great support.”
The crowd had plenty to cheer, too. Admittedly, the world No 3 dropped his serve in both sets but it was not a cause for concern – he broke back in no time on both occasions and once he had suppressed Lu’s enthusiasm, he set about his rival with more and more power from the baseline. While he was working up a sweat, his mother, Judy, was handing out the sweeties to his team at the side of the court. She, clearly, felt there was absolutely nothing to worry about.
There were glimpses of the more aggressive gameplan that Jonas Bjorkman, his assistant coach, would like to see him employ, but Murray was winning the majority of his points from the back of the court.
The forehand was clubbing Lu’s defences while the backhand was finding its range after just a handful of games. Now and again, he headed for the net but for the most part, it was business as usual for the Scot. For an opening match on a sappy grass court, Murray could not have asked for much more.
Now upgraded to a 500 level event, the Queen’s draw is tougher than ever, despite the loss of Nadal. Murray has an excellent record in this part of south west London with three titles to his credit already, but he is taking nothing for granted this year
“There have been good runs for me here,” he said, “and I obviously love playing here but it’s an extremely strong field this year. Stronger I think than in any previous year. I’m going to have to play great tennis if I want to do well this week and hopefully tomorrow I’ll play a bit better.”
Putting his best foot forward in those new shoes of his, Murray’s grass court game looks to be coming on in leaps and bounds with every set he plays.