Andy Murray (GB) bt. Robin Haase (NL) 6-1, 6-1, 6-4
James Ward (GB) bt. Jiri Vesely (CZ) 6-2, 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3
Dustin Brown (D) bt. Rafael Nadal (E) 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4
There comes a time in every great champion’s life when their early departure from a major tournament ceases to be particularly worthy of note. Rafael Nadal isn’t there quite yet, but at Wimbledon at least he is starting to look like he is getting there. Yesterday marked the fourth successive year that he has been knocked out in the first week at the All-England Club, each time to a player ranked outside the top-100. It is unavoidable to suggest that Nadal now looks like a player who has sustained one injury too many and will never again attain the same dizzy heights as before. However, it should also be noted that the grass courts have never been his natural home and that perhaps we should be concentrating more on the remarkable achievement that he was nevertheless twice champion at SW19, once in such memorable style that no-one who ever saw the match was in any doubt that it was probably the best that it could ever be.
While it was some way short of the shock factor that Steve Darcis or Lukas Rosol caused around Wimbledon by beating Nadal in previous years, there was still a little bit of a surprise on Centre Court. Not least seemingly for his conqueror, Germany’s handsomely dreadlocked qualifier Dustin Brown. Brown – and the BBC commentary crew for that matter – may have had their minds blown by the way events unfolded but I personally had tuned in thinking there was the definite possibility of just such an upset. For one thing, Nadal was always a slow starter on grass even in years where he ended up biting the trophy. For another, Dustin Brown is a particularly entertaining, challenging and tricky opponent on this surface. Indeed, he had already beaten Nadal on grass, comfortably in fact, at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle last year. Brown mixes power with no little amount of flair , but perhaps his greatest asset yesterday was the relentless nature of his play. His serve-and-volley game left Nadal little room to manoeuvre and less space still to breathe, as Brown rattled through his service points almost twice as fast as his famously twitchy, ritualistic rival. In round three, Brown will play Viktor Troicki of Serbia, who came through against the latest addition to the British tennis roster, Aljaz Bedene; Slovenian by birth, but representing his adoptive country since March this year. Having now succumbed in the first week at Wimbledon, he should fit in just fine.
Actually, it’s been a pretty good year for the Brits at Wimbledon so far. Recent tournaments have been routinely disastrous for dear old Albion, with 2013 particularly wretched if you are willing to overlook the fact that a British man blotted our copybook by winning the whole thing. Today, Heather Watson will be hoping to take her A game (as opposed to the F and C game with which he eventually foiled Caroline Garcia in the first round) into her encounter with Serena Williams on Centre Court. Tomorrow, two British men will compete in the third round for the first time since Henman and Rusedski were in their pomp over 15 years ago. James Ward, who has tended to save all his best matches and biggest scalps for the Davis Cup has finally started putting himself first for once and always looked in control once he had fought back to take a tight second set tie-break against the Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely, in spite of the loss of a set. It’s the furthest Ward has ever gotten into a Grand Slam and in addition, he now moves inside the world’s top-100. Which means Rafael Nadal is safe, at Wimbledon at least.
The usual suspect, meanwhile, was in completely imperious touch out on Court 1. In last year’s US Open, Robin Haase nearly proved the end of a short of form and out of condition Andy Murray before the Brit rallied to win in five. Yesterday there were no such shenanigans. Indeed, rarely has Murray looked so dominant, although it is also fair to suggest that his Dutch opponent was considerably short of his best. Still, you can only beat what is put in front of you, and Murray did so with a combination of such assurance and brio that you start to wonder if the glory days of 2013 may one day prove to have been just the start. If so, all the other British players may need to start vacating the draw with flying colours, but they are nothing if not capable of that.