Andy Murray is through to the second round of Wimbledon with a minimum of fuss, hobbling between points like a carthorse in search of oats but finishing like Caravaggio at Ascot, to leave young Alexander Bublik a smiling, cheek-puffed wreck, embraced by the crowd but consigned now to the record books.
After an hour and 44 minutes of high-grade slapstick tennis on Centre Court, Murray, hipster for a day as he managed his troubled middle-body bones, beat the part-time rapper from St Petersburg 6-1 6-4 6-2. Next up on Wednesday is Dustin Brown, who came from behind to beat the Portuguese Joao Sousa 3-6 7-6 (5) 6-4 6-4 in exactly two hours on Court 14.
On the main stage at the start of the 131st Wimbledon, there were passages of competitiveness, moments of delight and, for the defending champion, relief at a job well done. For his charming and cheeky dance partner – a Kazakh for tennis purposes, but a Russian enigma by inclination – there were too many calls of “Game, Mr Murray” to either assure him he was at the correct venue or to turn a performance into a contest.
“I feel pretty good, after the past few days,” Murray said courtside. “Getting out on match court is bit different, with the intensity and adrenalin, along with any pains you might have. I thought I did pretty well for the first match.”
The world No 1 was not bothered by two short rain breaks and said, “I felt pretty comfortable under foot. It was good that we stopped when we did.”
As for the rapport with his 134th-ranked opponent, he revealed, “I was chatting to him in the rain delay about Centre Court and a bit about the match – which is pretty rare. He’s a character, a bit different from a lot of the players. He tried some entertaining shots, and I think the crowd liked it a lot.
“I will now spend some time with my physio, get an ice bath, have a light practice tomorrow. Dustin [Brown] comes to the net a lot, so I will work a bit on my passing shots and lobs.”
Bublik, a slightly self-conscious but disarming 20-year-old who confessed beforehand he would not pay to watch Roger Federer play so bored is he with the grinding excellence of the elite squad, did entertain the crowd through sunshine and, briefly, rain.
Early skirmishes often set the tone of a Murray match, and this was no different. Within two minutes, smart-Alek, slicing like a butcher, had two break points on Murray, whose nerves jangled in an early double fault, but the Scot matched him for wit and invention to avoid embarrassment.
Bublik’s first serve of the tournament was a very decent 133mph, a speed he maintained throughout. When he pierced Murray’s defence with a second-serve ace at 130mph, followed by another to hold, it was clear we were in for an entertaining match, however long it lasted.
But, when Murray drew Bubik on to the punch in the fourth game and left him sprawled on the turf as a passing shot screamed passed him for the first break of the match, there was also an air of inevitability about proceedings. It would be sweet, but it would be mercifully short. For both of them, perhaps?
While Bublik was enjoying the moment, he could have done without the public stripping down – but who knows? Maybe he’ll never get to play on Centre Court at Wimbledon again. Certainly he made full use of HawkEye, not a feature on the outer fringes of the Tour.
Murray, meanwhile, had more urgent cause for a speedy conclusion: if he is to go deep in the fortnight, he needs quick early matches. He wrapped up the first set inside half an hour.
Bublik, under constant pressure, continued to enjoy himself. In the long fifth game of the second set, 1-3 down and after a seventh double fault, he challenged a line call, lost, then aced, double-faulted for the eighth time, succumbed to another teasing drop-shot, finally got a favourable call on a challenge and held with an ace, his ninth. All the while, a smile played on his face; Murray remained impassive to the show.
Bublik got a look in the 10th game, grabbing three break points. For the first time in the match, after an hour and 10 minutes, he drew on a growling exhortation to accompany his shots, sensing a breakthrough. But Murray had the kid shaking his head in wonder and respect when a crosscourt forehand on the run set up the the set point, which he duly held. The concluding frame was a routine finish and both left to warm applause.
Men’s first-round round-up
Rafael Nadal looked in ominously good form as the Spaniard brushed aside Australian John Millman in the first round.
Nadal is bidding to win his 16th Grand Slam title at the All England Club following his 10th French Open triumph last month, and on this evidence he would appear more than capable after beating Millman 6-1 6-3 6-2.
The world number two will next face American Donald Young, who booked his place in the second round after opponent Denis Istomin retired injured.
Twice Wimbledon semi-finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga breezed into the second round on Monday with a 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory over British wildcard Cameron Norrie, whose first Grand Slam appearance ended in a swift and painful exit.
Tsonga, the 12th seed, was dumped out in the second round last year but was never forced out of second gear as he swatted Norrie aside on Court Two.
The Frenchman began in his usual languid fashion before cranking up the pressure to break twice and take the first set against the South African-born Norrie, who has only recorded one tour-level victory.
While Norrie had weapons, principally a decent serve and a whip-crack forehand, they were all too often firing off target, allowing Tsonga to move through the gears at key moments.
The match became increasingly one-sided in the second set as Norrie double-faulted to hand Tsonga a break in the sixth game before tamely netting a backhand to fall two sets behind.
Tsonga broke twice again in the third set to wrap up victory in one hour and 23 minutes.
Japan's Kei Nishikori breezed through his first-round clash with Italy's Marco Cecchinato 6-2 6-2 6-0, demolishing an opponent who was playing his first senior-level match on grass.
Australian 20th seed Nick Kyrgios retired injured in his first round after losing the first two sets to French doubles specialist Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Kyrgios, clearly still struggling from the left hip injury that forced him to drop out in his first round match at the Queen’s Club tournament in London this month, was 6-3 6-4 down to the world number 70 when he asked for a physio to come on court.