Any lingering questions about how well—or badly—Andy Murray would handle returning to Wimbledon as the defending champ were laid to rest today, as the Scot belted his way into the haven of the second week of the tournament. Seeded No. 3, he met No. 27 seed Roberto Bautista Agut, who won last week’s grass-court event in the Netherlands, and simply demolished him.
This was as convincing a demonstration of grass-court expertise as anyone has ever put on display at Wimbledon. In a match that lasted just over 90 minutes, Murray clubbed 43 winners and made just 17 unforced errors, won 35 of the 40 first-serve points he put into play, and created 16 break points, converting half of them to win 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.
And the thing is, Bautista Agut didn’t play badly at all.
Murray broke early and he broke often; this match was barely an hour old when Murray broke Bautista Agut for the fifth time to end the second set. The action is best understood in broad terms: At 6’3”, Murray had three inches on his rival and, perhaps more important, an easy 10-plus M.P.H. advantage on first-serve speed. Given Murray’s prowess as a returner, that edge was more significant in terms of what he could do with Bautista Agut’s serve than even his ability to dominate with his own.
In all fairness to Bautista Agut, Murray was in a take-no-prisoners mood, and he brought along a game to match. He’s never looked more rangy, nor more eager to step in and swing for the placement. His forehand was blazing; his backhand dangerous in numerous ways, including the manner in which his slice bought him time, and also presented Bautista Agut with problems he could not solve owing to the low bounce of the shot.
In a refreshing change from the way Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic conduct their business, Murray was eager to put the hammer down as quickly and frequently as possible. The match proceeded at almost a breakneck pace. Perhaps he was challenging Bautista Agut to keep up; perhaps he was hoping to confuse and overwhelm the 26-year-old Spaniard who is, after all, at his best on clay. Maybe he simply felt he could punish and wear down Bautista Agut.
Most likely, it was all of the above.
The final point of the second set was representative of all that had come before. Murray had built a two break, 5-2 lead, but then, in his first show of weakness, he allowed one of those breaks to be nullified. Bautista Agut, serving to stay in the set at 3-5, fell behind 0-40 as Murray unloaded two blistering cross-court forehands that put so much pressure on his opponent that Bautista Agut double-faulted.
At that point, Murray seemed to take his foot off the gas just that little bit that allows a ray of hope to fall across an opponent’s mind. Bautista Agut battled back to deuce thanks to two errors by Murray and a service winner. Would this be one of those dreadful moments when Murray spins away into a funk and the next thing you know, it’s 6-all in the fifth set?
Not hardly, not today.
At deuce, Murray walloped yet another cross-court forehand return to reach another set point. During the next point he pulled a sneak attack during a rally and rushed forward to try to win the point from the net. He wasn’t able to put the ball away, but he fended off the pass. Then Bautista Agut tried to loft a lob over him, but Murray leaped high and hit a delicate, soft, cross-court backhand volley that died gently, just inches from the net on the opposite side. Game, and second set, to Murray.
At that point, the real question was whether or not Murray could keep tight control of the match. After all, we’ve been down similar roads with Murray in the past, and not very long ago, only to watch him over-complicate both his life and ours. But he answered the question with a resounding “Yes,” rolling through the third set as well.
Give Bautista Agut credit, though. He fought with all his might right to the bitter end, fending off three match points with gritty play before Murray won it on a rally-ending forehand error.
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