Big, dark and brooding, he looked like a Bond villain. Or, given that he’s Croatian, the lurking presence in one of those eastern European fairytales screened by the BBC in the 1960s which have haunted its audience into adulthood.
Franko Skugor didn’t scare Andy Murray but he caused enormous discomfort to the Scot and his men’s doubles partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert. There was a bit of sniping across the net over various calls made by Skugor, but it was the player’s power on the serve and the forehand drive which ultimately proved decisive as he and countryman Nikola Mektic, right, progressed to the third round by 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.
Normally doubles on a hectic Saturday packed with big guns, juicy encounters, Grand Slam champs and plucky Brits wouldn’t sell out No 2 Court but this was Murray, the pluckiest Brit of them all, aided and abetted by his new best tennis friend.
Herbert served confidently to open proceedings and then just as Mektic was about to reply the sky thundered. The Red Arrows were on fly-past, trailing red, white and blue vapours, further enhancing an already stunning scene: the discerning fan’s favourite arena, surrounded by trees with the spire of St Mary’s Church in the near distance, and down on the grass, the returning hero. The twosomes were sizing each other up and play was tight but Murray/Herbert seemed nice and relaxed, sharing a joke when the Scot hit the Frenchman with a volley.
It was a wonder something similar didn’t happen on the other side of the net given how much of it Skugor filled, but this pair are No 6 seeds and, frankly, played like it – although the Ecosse/Francais double act grabbed the first set on a tiebreak, Murray yelling “Come on!” before the ball had left his racket, so confident was he that it was the decisive shot.
The Croatians were the more solid pairing after that. Herbert will be the more unhappy with his performance, although Murray’s serve needs some work – he was broken twice in the third set.
Skugor irked Murray with his shouts. “Every time someone challenges you’re complaining,” the man from Dunblane told him.
Skugor simply resumed his party piece: crouching when Mektic served over his head, then emerging as if from a swamp or an eerie cupboard to crash an unstoppable winner.