“Focus on your own match.” These seemed to be Andy Murray’s words, muttered quietly to himself, while the rest of the Centre Court was going mental at the news that his Nemesis, Novak Djokovic, had crashed out of Wimbledon.
So what did he do? Serving for the set against the Australian John Millman, he lost the game. This seemed to be a wobble, caused by the Djokovic result – the reigning champion lost to America’s Sam Querrey – being flashed up on the scoreboard at a changeover. The next game was the longest and most nerve-jangling of the 2 hours 11 minutes Murray was on court, but he eventually emerged triumphant, winning 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.
Millman, ranked 67 in the world, was a challenging opponent who played his best tennis at precisely this juncture. You wouldn’t call this one of those matches where Murray toys with us, takes us to the brink. But you definitely came away from another shower-interrupted day at SW19 with the thought that, with the omnipotent Serb out of the equation, there could be some of that kind ahead of us.
It’s rare for Scotland to be able to claim superiority over Australia (national sport: winning) but here was one instance. Murray had never lost a Tour-level match to a man from Oz. This pair had met once before – in Millman’s home town of “Brizzie” three years ago when Murray, although he won, marked down his opponent as one to watch.
“I don’t think anyone was going for Andy that day,” recalled Millman, meaning support for the Scot was non-existent. “He’ll probably have a bit more this time.” The middle Saturday is the sporting legends’ big day out. In the Royal Box yesterday were Chris Hoy, David Beckham and a good number of the 1966 World Cup winning team, their uniqueness well and truly intact after England’s latest football failure.
At the time of the earlier match Millman said he could never have dreamed of a Centre Court encounter with Murray and that he planned to “make the most of it”. Certainly he presented classically brawny Aussie opposition for the No.2 seed.
It was pretty much a perfect start for Murray, serving three aces in the opening game and then breaking Millman with the help of a forehand crosscourt lob and one from his repertoire of drop-shots.
Both players wore caps to shield their eyes from the sun but there were always tiny spots of rain in the breeze. Good barbie weather? Not for down in Brizzie, mate, but Millman was overcooking a lot of his shots. Without actually banging a winner, though, he managed to break back in the fifth game, Murray making a couple of unforced errors.
Next game Murray broke Millman again to love; the first set was in sight. Compared with Murray’s previous match against Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun there were fewer flashing winners from him and a bit less flamboyance. But there was solid and consistent tennis and the set duly arrived in 33 minutes, a careful whisper of a drop-shot helping to take it, just before a shower forced the players off.
They came back, played two points then the rain came back, much heavier this time, with Millman pointing to the roof as if to say: “Use it, mate.” The delay while the court was closed up, slowing down the ball, seemed to affect Murray more, with Millman winning on his serve and the Scot finding the net. His drop-shots – so lethal against Lu – weren’t working and Millman was hinting that a break of his serve might be possible. But it was Millman who was broken next game, another Murray lob from the back with the whole crowd following the arc being the highlight.
Murray got to set point just as the buzz about Djokovic began. Phones must be turned off at Wimbledon, of course, so it wasn’t mass hysteria like on one of football’s Helicopter Sundays when everyone learns something to their advantage at exactly the same time.
Did Millman sense a chance? He was playing better, bolder. But Murray would take that key game on his fifth break-point then served out for the set. The second set had been a sticky one but Murray found more smoothness after that, clinching the match with his eighth ace.