Wimbledon: Minor tremor is felt as Murray triumphs

British No 1 Andy Murray gulps down water on Centre Court yesterday where the ground temperature measured 43 degrees Celsius at one stage during his match with Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA).
British No 1 Andy Murray gulps down water on Centre Court yesterday where the ground temperature measured 43 degrees Celsius at one stage during his match with Kazakhstan's Mikhail Kukushkin (Picture: Mike Egerton/PA).
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It took a while longer than seemed probable at one stage 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.

England’s football manager Roy Hodgson watched from the first row of the Royal Box, almost directly above Murray as he opened his 10th Wimbledon campaign.

Hodgson knows all about early elimination following England’s brief Brazil adventure last summer.

This thought was not 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 by a double fault from the Scot.

But Murray managed to retrieve the situation, just as he had managed to rectify matters in a topsy-turvy second set that had somehow spun out of his control.

The match 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 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, Kukushin 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. But Murray rallied, helped by his opponent netting twice. The Scot made swift work of the tie-break, winning 7-3.

Up in his box, his heavily pregnant coach Amelie 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 had been 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 very 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.

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.

Of course, 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 frazzle the Scot further.

Knowing he now had little to lose, the fear was Kukushkin might carry on swinging, but with even greater abandonment. 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. Murray is spared action today, when the heat is set to get even more intense.

The Scot feels other British players enjoying success at Wimbledon can only help him in his bid to win a second title at the All England Club.

Four British men are into round two at SW19 for the first time since 2006.

Joining the Scot is James Ward and Aljaz Bedene, as well as Liam Broady who won on Monday, while Heather Watson also made it through in the women’s draw.

Murray takes a strong interest in his compatriots’ results and while the British No 1 insists it is not his job to bring through the next generation of stars, he admits their success does give him a boost.

“For me, it’s nice, I know all of them fairly well,” Murray said.

“I’ve obviously spent a lot of time training with James, really more in the last 12 to 18 months.

“Aljaz I don’t know so well, Heather obviously had a good win, too.

“It’s good for British tennis. The more wins and more players we can have in these events, it makes a difference.”

Murray added: “Is it important to my legacy? No, because that’s the job of the LTA, to capitalise on any success that players have just now. That isn’t up to me, I don’t think. But what I do enjoy doing is being around the other British players, chatting to them, helping them, practising with them.

“Being around them is good for me, as well. It helps them too so it’s win win really.”