Andy Murray headed to Wimbledon with question marks over his health and grass-court form.
Yesterday on Centre Court, the world’s fourth-ranked player from Britain allayed some of those concerns with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 win against Nikolay Davydenko.
“The last couple of weeks have been hard,” Murray said in a televised interview after the match, after he sliced and served his way past the Russian formerly ranked third in the world. “I was desperate to get going, because there was a lot of talk from a lot of people.”
British reporters have focused on Murray’s annual quest to end the nation’s 76-year men’s title drought in the four tennis Grand Slam events after England was knocked out of the quarterfinals of soccer’s European Championship on June 24.
Murray, who has lost in the semifinals of Wimbledon the past three years, entered the 2012 tournament as the bookmakers’ fourth favorite after he was knocked out at Queen’s as defending champion in his first match two weeks ago.
Last week, he lost twice on grass at an exhibition event, against the eighth-ranked Janko Tipsarevic and top-ranked Novak Djokovic, the 7-4 favorite to successfully defend his Wimbledon crown. That means a successful bet on the Serb would bring in $7 plus the original $4 wager.
Djokovic plays Ryan Harrison of the U.S. today in a second-round match, while six-time champion Roger Federer of Switzerland faces Italy’s Fabio Fognini. French Open women’s champion Maria Sharapova of Russia meets Tsvetana Pironkova, a former semifinalist from Bulgaria.
During the French Open, Murray was called a “drama queen” by Britain’s most recent Wimbledon singles champion, 1977 women’s winner Virginia Wade, after his second-round victory in Paris. He held his back and said later he’d been two points away from quitting against Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen after he had back spasms during the night.
The criticism continued after his quarterfinal defeat at Roland Garros to David Ferrer of Spain. Former world No. 2 Tommy Haas told German broadcaster Sport1 that Murray sometimes exaggerates injuries, and that “people talk about it in the locker room.”
When confronted with comments eight-time major singles champion John McEnroe made on a conference call last week that a back injury can at times be mental, Murray reacted angrily.
“I think eight pain-killing injections in your back before the French Open justifies a genuine injury,” the 25-year-old right-hander told newspapers including the Sunday Herald in Scotland three days ago. “A lot of people have suggested that it hasn’t been genuine. I’ve a genuine injury, a genuine back problem. It’s not a mental thing.”
Murray has refused to disclose the exact nature of his back problems, only that he’s been struggling since December.
Yesterday at Wimbledon, Murray’s spin, speed and court coverage overwhelmed Davydenko, who reached No. 3 in 2006.
Murray raced through the first two sets in 55 minutes against Davydenko as he dictated the points from the start against the 31-year-old Russian, winner of the 2009 season-ending ATP World Tour Finals.
“Once I got ahead of him, I wanted to make sure I didn’t let him back in,” Murray said in a news conference. “He’s very, very dangerous. He’s a very good returner as well. I needed to stay concentrated on my serve, and I did it well.”
Murray looked up to the sky and pointed his finger after Davydenko hit a return long on match point. He’ll play 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) Ivo Karlovic of Croatia or 5-foot-9 Dudi Sela of Israel in the next round.
“I just wanted to go out there today, play well, keep my focus, and not worry about the other stuff that goes on off the court around this time of the year,” Murray said. “I did a good job of that. Time to let the tennis do the talking.”
Unlike last year, Murray isn’t the only man from the British Isles to make it out of the opening round -- 173rd-ranked James Ward beat Spain’s Pablo Andujar in five sets. Meanwhile, Elena Baltacha, Heather Watson and Anne Keothavong all advanced to the second round in the women’s draw.
“Any time the Brits do well in slams it’s good for British tennis,” Murray said. “It’s been a good tournament so far, and hopefully it continues.”