WHEN Andy Murray wrote in his pre-Wimbledon blog at the weekend that “the idea is to spend as little time as necessary on the courts”, he was clearly being deadly serious.
Tuesday night’s destruction of Nikolay Davydenko barely took him an hour-and-a-half, leaving some denizens of Centre Court with the sensation they had been short-changed. Where was the anguish we have come to expect? The edge-of-the-seat excitement lacking on Tuesday could be in store for us today on Centre Court, where the Scot has been given a tall order against Ivo Karlovic, the 6ft 10in flame-thrower of a server from Zagreb.
Maybe we should we careful what we wish for. On the evidence of head-to-head clashes, today’s second round meeting with Karlovic should prove straightforward enough for Murray.
But then when have such statistics proved to be a cast-iron guarantee of the result of a tennis match?
They have met three times in their career, all on American hard courts and all ending in a win for the Scot and with the loss of just two sets. How much can be read into this? Murray himself acknowledged that Karlovic plays a game well-suited to grass courts. The Croat dispensed with first round opponent Sela Dudi easily enough yesterday.
It was the logistics of it all that caused him the greatest frustration. While Murray was resting up at home yesterday evening watching the Euro 2012 semi-final between Spain and Portugal, Karlovic was having to put his rain-delayed clash with Dudi to bed.
He didn’t walk off court No 5 until after 6.30pm, and hadn’t fulfilled his media duties until after 8pm. What did he learn last night? he was asked. “I have learned that if it’s raining in England, it rain for hours,” he replied. Murray, of course, will be wary of Karlovic, although he is bound to be in bouyant mood following the ease which which he negotiated the first appointment of his seventh Wimbledon campaign on Tuesday. His match against Davydenko, judging by previous clashes between the pair, was meant to be a closer affair than it turned out to be. In nine previous meetings the score stood at 5-4 to the Scot. But Murray made a mockery of such narrow margins on Tuesday evening.
He knows Karlovic will be eyeing a chance to cause an upset in the place where in 2003 he made his name, when a lot less experienced but still undeniably lofty. His defeat of Lleyton Hewitt caused a sensation nine years ago, since it was only the second time in Wimbledon history that a defending champion had lost in the opening round. Even back then Hewitt described Karlovic’s serve as a “big weapon”.
Now 33, his best grand slam peformance is a quarter-final appearance at Wimbledon in 2009. Even compatriot Goran Ivanisevic yesterday expressed surprise at this poor record. “He is a bit up and down,” he said. “Maybe it’s confidence.
“I am surprised he hasn’t done better at Wimbledon over the years and in general,” he added. “It’s not all about his serve.”
Ivanisevic recalled watching one match where Karlovic somehow contrived to lose a game when 82 per cent of his first serves had landed in. He finished off with an ace last night against Sela, as if firing a warning shot in Murray’s direction. Ivanisevic, however, expects the Scot to win. “Andy is one of the best returners in the game,” said Ivanisevic, who is back at the tournment he won so unforgettably in 2001.
“He has a good game for Karlovic. He’s not a typical guy who stays 10 metres back and waits. Karlovic doesn’t like someone who returns well like Andy. He’s my fellow countryman and I wish him all the best. But Andy will always be the favourite in this match.”
Murray trained yesterday with Jamie Baker before his fellow Scot’s match against Andy Roddick, then headed home. He has what some might contend is another distraction, though Murray believes his obsession with Xbox gaming can count as part of his preparations to meet Karlovic, whose booming serves require the receiver to be lightning quick with his reactions. The Croatian set the record for the fastest serve last year with a 156mph effort in a Davis Cup tie against Germany.
“It is never comfortable playing against guys like that,” admitted Murray. Karlovic is not all about crashing serves, however. “He plays a grass court game,” said Murray. “He likes to come to the net. It is challenging because it is not about the way you hit the ball against them a lot of the time. It can all be about a couple of passing shots, a couple of reflex shots and also your focus.”
Such skills have been honed while playing Xbox computer games, something which is difficult to equate with a world class sportsman. A nation is hopeful that hours of dedication in front of a screen means Murray has the tools to down a genuine threat in Karlovic.