IT TOOK a while longer than seemed probable at one stage.
• Murray beats Kukushkin 6-4, 7-6, 6-4
And there were enough wobbles to mean it was possible to claim Andy Murray survived what amounted to a scare here at a sun-baked Wimbledon against Mikhail Kukushkin yesterday.
In the end, the Scot gleamed with the righteous sweat of victory after what looks on paper like a fairly straightforward 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 win.
But of course this first-round clash was not played on paper.
It was played in a furnace-like Centre Court, where the pressure was all on the home favourite.
Roy Hodgson watched from the first row of the Royal Box, almost directly above Murray as he opened his tenth Wimbledon campaign.
A year on from his brief Brazil adventure, the England manager knows all about early elimination. This thought wasn’t to be borne by Murray and his followers. Ticket-hunters were told it was not worth continuing to queue as early as 9am yesterday. Murray mania was back.
At this stage in the proceedings, it is all about finding a way to get through to the next round.
Murray managed to do this against an awkward, admirably resilient foe. Even in the third set, with Murray having survived the worst and serving for the match, Kukushkin had fought to obtain two break points – one of them presented on a silver platter with a double fault by the Scot.
But Murray managed to retrieve the situation, just as he had managed to rectify matters in a topsy-turvy second set that he had somehow seen spin out of his control.
It had begun smoothly. Murray won the first game to love and then broke his opponent in the second. When he held service at a canter in the third game it seemed Kukushkin’s spirit had been broken.
But the Russian-born Kazakh is a pragmatic fellow. He switched nationality in the hope of obtaining more funding and here he calculatedly raised the tempo to put the heat on Murray, breaking in the fifth game to trail 3-2.
He could not take advantage on that occasion and allowed himself to be broken straight back. Alarm over? Not quite. While Murray held service in the next game to go 5-2 up, his opponent was not about to roll over.
Kukushkin held serve, then broke Murray again – after the Scot had gone 30 love up.
Another break and the Kazakh led 6-5. When he then went 30 love up on his service game, Kukushkin seemed on the brink of securing a foothold in the match after losing the first set 6-4. Centre Court held its breath. The heat never felt so oppressive. However, Murray rallied, helped by his opponent netting twice. The Scot made swift work of the tie-break, winning 7-3.
Up in his box, heavily pregnant coach Amélie Mauresmo was supplied with some comfort. Just a few seats along sat Kukushkin’s coach – his wife, Anastasia. While these unusual circumstances marked out the clash as something special, it was all a bit ho-hum in the first set. Kukushin, it was clear to see, has talent.
But Murray seemed to be getting the job done with fairly little fuss. As with rivals Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal earlier, and Novak Djokovic the day before, he was hoping to simply progress while expending as little energy as possible. That was the plan, at least.
Both players appeared to be standing further back from the baseline than normal, as if in an attempt to seek some of the shade provided by the canvas ends. It reached 43 degrees Celsius at one point, and this was towards the conclusion of the match, when it was nearing 6pm.
So it would be unfair to be too critical; how can sports people be expected to be able to perform to their peak in such conditions?
Particularly one who happens to have been brought up in Scotland. Murray’s relocation to Spain when in his teenage years was again proved to have been a prudent move yesterday as he found a way of sustaining himself in such sweltering conditions.
But, of course, there was not just one player out there. Kukushin had to cope with the same thought-zapping heat. And, at times, he was managing to do this with more success than Murray. He sussed that by speeding things up he was able to further frazzle the Scot.
Knowing he now had little to lose, the fear was Kukushkin might carry on swinging, but with even greater abandonment now. While far from becalmed, the 27-year-old proved less bothersome for Murray in the third set.
There was a spell in the second set when Kukushkin seemed to be picking off Murray’s second serve at will.
The Scot’s first serve was becoming a problem again and there remains work to do here, no question.
But now is the time to iron out the kinks. He has today to work on things before he returns to competitive action tomorrow against the tall, potentially troublesome Dutchman Robin Haase, who defeated Alejandro Fallo yesterday.
Mercifully, Murray is spared action today, when the heat is set to get even more intense.