LONDON – When a 19-stroke exchange ended with Andy Murray’s Wimbledon opponent slapping a forehand into the net, thousands of Centre Court spectators rose in unison.
They applauded Murray’s first service break.
They screamed for joy.
They waved their Union Jacks and Scottish flags.
It was only a third-round match, merely 12 minutes and three games old, yet to some that tiny early edge seemed massively meaningful.
So imagine the reaction, louder and livelier, when the second-seeded Murray finished off his 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 victory over 32nd-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain less than two hours later Friday to advance to Week 2. And then for a moment, try to fathom what would happen if Murray ever were to win the final point of The Championships, as the Grand Slam tournament is known around here, and become the first British man in 77 years to hoist the trophy.
“You need to be professional enough to not let that stuff bother you and just concentrate on each match,” said Murray, who has won 20 of his past 21 contests on grass, including runs to last year’s final at the All England Club and a London Olympics gold medal. “I did a good job of that (Friday). I played well. My best match of the tournament, so far.”
The locals’ hopes that Murray will follow up his 2012 U.S. Open victory with another major title, this time at Wimbledon, only increased in the aftermath of surprisingly early losses this week by seven-time champion Roger Federer, two-time winner Rafael Nadal and two-time semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
All were seeded in the top six, and all were on Murray’s half of the draw. Their departures mean the most daunting obstacle in Murray’s path – until a potential final against No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, anyway – might very well be surging expectations.
“There’s a lot more pressure on me now, with them being out,” Murray said after compiling 40 winners and only 14 unforced errors against Robredo, taking advantage of the zero-wind conditions under the closed retractable roof.
“I mean, I don’t read the papers and stuff. But there are papers in the locker room,” Murray said with a chuckle. “So you see some of the headlines and stuff. It’s not that helpful.”
Nadal’s stunning first-round exit, for example, mainly was viewed through the prism of how that result helped Murray, who could have faced the 12-time major champion in the semifinals. “Adios Rafa. Hello Andy. Wimbledon dreams again,” read a headline in The Times of London. The Daily Mail’s take: “Great start for Andy – Rafa’s out.”
All in all, then, Friday was a perfectly British day, and not simply because Murray won his third straight-set match in a row. The lone other remaining singles player from the host country, 19-year-old Laura Robson, made her way into the third round at Wimbledon for the first time, defeating 117th-ranked qualifier Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia 6-4, 6-1.
That match, like Murray’s, was played with the Centre Court covered because of rain that played havoc with the schedule, and Robson heard her share of rowdy support, too. She also was serenaded with the “Awwwwwww” that often accompanies a mistake by a player the crowd really cares about.
“I love when people get involved,” Robson said. “Sometimes they do, like, a massive groan if I hit a double-fault, but I’m doing it as well. So, yeah, we’re just living it together.”
Robson eliminated 10th-seeded Maria Kirilenko in the first round, part of a wild first week. All told, four top-10 men (each on Murray’s half, coincidentally) and six top-10 women lost already, equaling the worst performance by the highest seeds at any Grand Slam tournament in the 45-year history of the Open era.
Speaking about the anyone-can-beat-anyone feel, 37th-ranked Jurgen Melzer of Austria said: “There has been so much talk about it, you cannot ignore it.”
He did manage to put a stop to it, however, at least as far as Sergiy Stakhovsky was concerned. Two days after serving-and-volleying his way past defending champion Federer, Stakhovsky played like a guy ranked 116th, losing 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 to Melzer.
“I think,” Stakhovsky said, “I just played stupid.”