Leaking skies, a fiercely chill wind and a centre court full of semi-sober spectators bundled up against the cold and the wet – it could only be a day at Queen’s Club, the traditional start of the British grass court season. And they tell us that tennis is a summer sport.
Still, it was the day that Andy Murray had been looking forward to for a month. Since he turned his aching back on the clay courts of Europe, pulling out of the Rome Masters four weeks ago and giving up his ticket to the French Open, he has been preparing and practising for his return to the green stuff. And, for 40 minutes or so yesterday, the wait and the work had been worth it. He skipped away with the first set against Nicolas Mahut 6-3 in the second round of the Aegon Championships.
After all the worry about his fitness, Scotland’s finest looked to be in perfect nick. He was moving well, serving cleanly and clearly enjoying the target that Mahut presented at the net – Murray’s passing shots were working like a dream, particularly on the backhand side. And when he opened up with a forehand right towards Mahut’s unmentionables, coach Ivan Lendl must have smiled.
It was hard to tell, mind you, as the stone-faced one was hiding beneath a hat and behind superfluous sunglasses and had zipped his jacket all the way up to his earlobes in order to keep out the damp.
The poor ball girls were shivering. Dressed from head to toe in blue, the brand colour of the tournament sponsor, it was not long before their knees matched their skirts – it was not a day to be out without thick woollies and an umbrella.
Murray, though, was working up a sweat. From letting slip two break points in the opening game, he made no mistake when another opportunity presented itself and earning another break point with one of those laser-guided backhands of his, he got the break for 4-3 with a winner off a drop shot. But, all the while, the clouds were getting darker and lower and the spits and spots of rain were getting heavier.
When he slipped on the baseline as he was chasing a second break, Murray asked the umpire how much more of this they would have to endure. A couple of points later, the first set had gone to Scotland but the players were away back to the locker room as the drizzle settled in.
They tried twice to get back on court as the afternoon dragged on towards evening but, each time, the weather sent them back. And, at 2-2 in the second set with Murray leading 15-0 on serve, the drizzle turned into proper rain and that was it for the night. But, with four days in which to play three and a half matches (that presupposes he reaches the final), the world No 2 has plenty of time to complete his schedule at Queen’s Club. He will be back at work on the centre court today once Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Edouard Roger-Vasselin have concluded their business there.
Dan Evans managed to get his match finished around the rain delays, causing something of a stir as he reached the third round by beating Jarkko Nieminen, the world No 37, 6-4, 6-7, 6-4. The Finn is ranked 240 places above Evans and, at the age of 31, is vastly more experienced. No matter. Evans fought and battled and clung on like a limpet to claim his win. When rain stopped play as Nieminen was serving to stay in the match and Evans was just a whisker from victory, it was more than the veteran could bear. Evans, meanwhile, was happily settling into life with the big boys – and was making a habit of beating them.
“I prefer to play someone better where they all hit the ball back than a guy who’s playing futures, and then that helps me,” he said. “It’s just a bit more intense and I don’t struggle to lose concentration when I’m playing here. That’s the main thing is I’m not losing concentration.”
He will certainly be playing one of the better men when he takes on Juan Martin Del Potro today – the 6ft 6ins Argentine is the eighth best player in the world and, against talent like that, Evans dare not lose concentration for a second.
What he will not be doing, however, is arguing with Ivan Lendl. Evans spent the rain delay chatting to Murray and his team, including the formidable former champion. And much as he has shown no fear on court this week, he was decidedly wary around Lendl.
“It’s pretty intimidating, I have to say,” Evans said. “Like, I don’t know him. Obviously I know he was an unbelievable tennis player, so I just keep quiet and don’t say anything.”
Jamie Murray also got his day’s work done before the rain as he and John Peers dispatched Grigor Dimitrov and Frederik Nielsen 7-6, 6-3. If they can get past Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo today, they will through to the doubles quarter-finals.