With players hirpling to the cashier’s office to collect their appearance money after barely finishing one set and others declaring they’re bored of Wimbledon, the Centre Court needed to believe again – believe that when two players are really going for it under a big, bright sun there’s nothing better in sport.
Expectations were high for Andy Murray and Dustin Brown. These would be the guys. The nation’s hero and a bundle of charisma and flamboyance – and that’s just Brown’s hair.
The previous day on Centre, tennis fans had seen just 40 and 43 minutes respectively of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer before their opponents, both carrying injuries, gave up. So the packed stands would have been happy with a good-going match which went the distance. Brown’s trademarked leaping shots would be a bonus.
But he never got the chance to fly. Or win the flair contest. Maybe Murray appears straight next to Brown in his surfer-dude vest with those magnificent dreadlocks but he certainly doesn’t play like it and the No 1 seed simply strolled into the third round, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
It was the hottest afternoon yet in SW19, a sultry affair that might have encouraged some to follow Murray’s example and plunge into an ice bath, though the Scot of course submits to two per day.
How was that niggly left hip of his? Hourly bulletins had almost been required, such is the hope invested in Murray and yesterday there was an extra Scottish dimension to that hope, the land of his birth requiring a sporting boost after Rangers’ pathetic Euro efforts.
Brown, ranked No 97 in the world, last cut his hair in 1996 when Richard Krajicek was Wimbledon champ, Steffi Graf won her last title and Cliff Richard “entertained” the crowds during a rain delay. Who knows, maybe the barber-swerving was his protest at the Bachelor Boy’s warblings.
The Jamaican-German has got a box of tricks and he opened it right away. In the early exchanges Brown repeatedly tried to drop-shot Murray – a favourite tactic from which he wasn’t going to deviate, given the champ’s injury.
Sometimes this worked, sometimes he undercut – and on the point that woke up a crowd still a bit zonked by the heat and Johanna Konta’s epic, Murray got those big feet moving to charge the ball down.
But Brown – bidding to defeat a No 1 for the second time in his career, Rafael Nadal being the previous victim – strikes so low you swear he must find a secret hole in the net and he kept pace with Murray, including for a point where it was Best Dink-Shot Wins, and another right after for Top Lob Prevails.
Murray certainly wasn’t dreading the dreadlocks. His considered use of the drop shot was maybe instructive for Brown, for he was reeled in on fewer occasions but passed more. Murray grabbed a break of serve off a double fault and clinched the first set in 35 minutes.
To chants of “Let’s go, Andy, let’s go”, Murray looked to build on his lead but Brown was still a lively and inventive opponent, one volley with killing slice which never got back up off the turf being a standout.
Murray, though, was killing Brown with consistency, keeping him in a corner of the court before unleashing a winner and making fewer unforced errors. Now, the hip bone as we know is connected to the thigh bone and in Murray’s case yesterday it still was. The crowd were going two, three, four games without worrying about its condition, especially when their man, in the process of securing a second-set break, produced a thrilling backhand on the run, Brown signalling approval with a thumb. Next service game Murray broke Brown again and by then was really turning on the style.
Anything Brown did, any fancy shot he tried, Murray matched, usually with decisive results, and the challenger was never allowed to build any momentum, far less admire his winners for very long.
Somewhere under the stands, champagne corks popped into rafters. This was irritating for those of us not invited to the party. Murray, who doesn’t drink, can get irked by just about anything when matches turn out to be problematic – but he was enjoying himself in the sunshine and the second set duly arrived.
Brown moves well, his hair following just a few seconds behind him, but Murray moved better in this match and the heart seemed to go out of the 32-year-old. His box of tricks empty, Murray broke him early in the third set.
This was a stiffer challenge for Murray than Alexander Bublik had been and he’ll have appreciated the opportunity to thunder across the court more than in the first round – but in the end he was pretty imperious. The serve worked well, too, and he didn’t have a single break point against him. If he performed at 70 per cent on Monday this was more like 80, maybe 85.
It was almost flawless until right at the end, when his first double fault was immediately followed by another, but soon the players were embracing at the net, with Brown telling his conqueror: “Too good – thanks for the lesson.”
Later Brown added: “Anything I did, just seemed like he didn’t really care. Most of the guys you play, you can try to find a way where you know you can hurt them. If you do it, the whole match is a different situation.
“But today I had the feeling it made no difference what I did. If I stayed back, if I attacked, if I came in, if I chipped, if I hit the ball and came in. He pretty had much a good answer for everything.
“Most of the time when he was hitting ridiculous shots I just laughed and said: ‘Good job, let’s see if he does it again.’ Yeah and he did – for three sets.”
So his injury didn’t really show itself? A wry smile from Brown then a shake of the head: “If Andy has a problem with his hip then I don’t want to play against him when his hip is good.”