Andy Murray gets a perfect workout for openers at Wimbledon
Scot sees off Belgium’s David Goffin on Centre Court
On his first and hopefully not last visit to Centre Court at Wimbledon, the young Belgian David Goffin (real age 23) provided Andy Murray with the sort of opening match the champion would have chosen were this a tennis Fantasy League.
On the face of it, this was no place for a kid with a ’50s schoolboy haircut who looked like he had just walked out of the Beano. However, although Murray beat him 6-1, 6-4, 7-5, Goffin is tougher than he looks and even grabbed a couple of break points in the third set.
Nevertheless, it is hard to recall many other moments of genuine anxiety for the fourth seed, apart from a brief tussle towards the end – and certainly his new coach, Amelie Mauresmo, will have been pleased with the style and content of what was a quality workout.
In childhood matches with his older brother, Simon, David would pretend he was Pete Sampras; he was not to know, of course, that he would grow no bigger than 5ft 11in and weigh less than 11 stones in an era of muscled monsters, and, without a bazooka, he put few dents in Murray’s tank.
When the Belgian erred, the patrons gave him the sort of patronising “aah” aunties reserve for favourite nephews who spill tea on the carpet. As early as the second game, he found Murray’s backhand slice devilish, hitting short and long against it – a pattern that would continue – and gave up his serve at the first time of asking.
With ground strokes looser than Virginia Wade’s tongue, Goffin struggled to maintain a rally worth the name in the first 12 minutes, which is when 10 of his 28 unforced errors arrived. The encouragement of applause when he held serve after 17 minutes of exquisite torture will have only mildly calmed his nerves.
Overall, Goffin was no match for Murray, who has been coming here annually since 2005, winning a singles title and an Olympic gold medal along the way. The Belgian had moments, such as the delightful backhand drop volley in the fifth game, a sumptuous running backhand down the line in the second game of the second set, and a rush of high-grade chips and well-struck backhands at the start of the third, but too many of his shots went awry, allowing Murray to merely keep the shape of his game and let the points pile up.
When Goffin slipped to the turf, turning for a late-switch forehand that sped past him in the first set, he looked like a schoolboy struck down by a bully. When Murray lobbed him to break for 5-1 after 25 minutes, he looked non-plussed. When Murray put another whizzbang service beyond him to take the opening set, he looked like that bully.
There was more of the same in the second, but Goffin kept fighting and put together a couple of lovely points in the ninth game for 4-5. While he could hold his serve (just) he could not hold his footing and took another tumble as Murray served out with just his second ace of the match.
Goffin went ahead for only the second time in the match after an hour and 25 minutes, when he held for 2-1 in the third – and it energised him to the extent he grabbed two break points with some excellent, combative tennis.
He blew the first with backhand volley into the net; Murray saved the second with a crosscourt forehand that left his opponent swishing at air, held through sheer stubbornness and Goffin’s moment was gone.
During these rare combative exchanges, it was noticeable that Murray was getting caught out too often for comfort with drop shots; could it be a legacy of his back surgery? Keen-eyed opponents will no doubt have their own ways of finding out.
A collection of Goffin’s best work would deliver him a winning set against just about anyone – as it did when he dragged Roger Federer into four sets in the fourth round on the clay of Roland Garros two years ago. The grass of Wimbledon is a jungle of a different kind, and it confounded him repeatedly, as he netted the skidding ball from deep, failing to bend his knees in the shot.
After nearly two hours, Murray was serving to stay in the set – which he managed to love. Goffin handed him the break with an unsteady backhand, again drifting long, and Murray struck his eighth ace – 109 miles an hour and swinging down the T – to wrap it up in two hours and three minutes.
It was a pleasingly sound rather than spectacular performance by Murray. He hit 28 clean winners and made just 10 unforced errors. It was something to work with.