The draw has been made; Andy Murray’s Wimbledon challenge has been laid out in front of him. And about the best anyone can say is: “fingers crossed”.
It is not that the draw is terrible (although it is no walk in the park), it is not that Murray is carrying an injury – he won his first Wimbledon title with a chronic back problem so bad that he required surgery a couple of months later. It is just that the world No 1’s preparations for the biggest tournament of the year have been, at best, difficult and at worst, fractured.
His ailing hip has limited his chance to practise this past week while his lack of form has allowed him just one competitive match in the past three weeks (a dismal first-round loss to Jordan Thompson at Queen’s Club). He had scheduled three practice sessions yesterday at the All England Club but he is racing to make up for lost time. It is anything but perfect as he prepares for the defence of his title.
That defence will begin at 1pm on Monday on Centre Court against Alexander Bublik, a lucky loser from the qualifying competition.
Aged 20, born in Russia but playing under the flag of Kazakhstan, Bublik is ranked No 134 in the world. In a normal year, he should not have presented too much of a threat to the champion but this is not a normal year. And Bublik has one advantage over Murray: although he failed to reach the main draw in the events in Stuttgart and Halle, he did play two qualifying rounds at each tournament. Then he headed for Roehampton and played a further three matches. That is seven outings on the grass to Murray’s one.
For Bublik, Monday should be a dream come true. He gets to open The Championships with Murray, he gets to spend time on the hallowed Centre Court turf and he has absolutely nothing to lose. Life does not get much better than that for an aspiring, young professional. On the flip side, no champion wants to meet a carefree young gun if that champion is not particularly confident and not too sure of his form.
The second round does not look any more inviting – potentially Murray will play Dustin Brown, the 32-year-young German with the flowing dreadlocks and the explosive game.
He may not make headlines for the rest of the year but Brown saves his best for the grass courts and two years ago beat Rafael Nadal in the second round. Brown is built for grass – he serves and volleys in his sleep.
From there, the big names start stacking up. There could be Nick Kyrgios in the fourth round, Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals and Nadal in the semi-finals.
The only good news is that Novak Djokovic (who has been having problems of his own of late) and Roger Federer are in the other half of the draw. They can wait until the final Sunday should Murray get there.
Assuming that his hip is behaving itself, Murray is hoping that the usual Wimbledon feelings will start to come back as he gets closer to Monday’s match. Federer, seven times the champion in SW19, may feel like he owns the place but for Murray, the All England Club is a home from home. He lives just a short drive away and so spends a lot of time there.
“It’s a special place to play,” Murray said. “It’s a great court at one of the biggest tournaments, if not the biggest tournament for me in the year. I love playing there, it’s a special place to play. I feel like I’ve played some of my best tennis on that court during my career. Maybe for some of the players, each time they get back there it feels extra special. I spend so much time there during the year that it just feels comfortable more than anything.”
If Murray was looking for extra inspiration, he has found it in recent events. The terrorist attacks in Manchester, London and around the world have dominated the news while the capital is still reeling from the devastating fire in Grenfell Tower. Yet no matter how long the queues are for the security screenings or how wary the public is of another attack, the crowds still flock to watch Murray play tennis. Now he wants to give them something to cheer about.
“It’s been a pretty rough few months,” he said. “That’s why I still find it amazing that we get to go out and play in pretty much packed stadiums like at Queen’s, with eight, nine, ten thousand people who still come out to watch. It’s great. We’re very lucky to get to do that. But it does make you think.
“I want to do well. Wimbledon is a big, big event in the British sporting calendar. A lot of people watch it, support it, come out, buy tickets and everything. [My losing at Queen’s] would have been disappointing for a number of people and I’m sorry about that. I’m hoping that come Wimbledon, I can turn it around and play some good tennis and hopefully have a great run again and make it an interesting summer.”