With Andy Murray up against a player nicknamed The Magician, his first round match was guaranteed to be one of all-round entertainment, and neither player disappointed. Murray’s match against France’s Fabrice Santoro saw a welcome return to Centre Court for the British number one.
Initially the tone of the match seemed to be anything you can do, I can do better. They were both wrong.
It took a worryingly long time before Murray stopped using lobs against Santoro, as the latter invariably won those points.
They were about equal on drop-shots, with Murray managing to pick up most of Santoro’s; and when they worked for Murray they looked brilliant, when they didn’t work they looked (and were) pointless. The one time they were fully engaged in a battle of the drop-shots, the crowd could not have been more ecstatic had Santoro produced a beautiful assistant and cut Murray in half before putting him back together again.
Although Santoro pulled out a string of varying shots from his sleeve as a magician would a chain of handkerchiefs, Murray was able to answer and stay in the point even when it looked lost to him. Santoro waved his wand and produced some wonderful, crowd pleasing shots, including a bullet-like forehand across court, and a backhand flick down the line similar to that employed by Hrbaty in his match against Federer; while Murray had his scorching backhand down the line, as well as some powerful forehands and passing shots.
His serving in the first set was impressive, clocking one at 134mph. Although he was broken after having his own break on the Santoro serve, he was able to break back and took the first set 6-3. However his opening service game in the second set saw him broken, but on the next he returned to good form, and normal service resumed. Murray took the second set 6-4.
In the third set there was a danger that the Frenchman’s habit of holding serve would frustrate Murray into a fourth set; but credit to the Scot for keeping his cool and his focus. He even allowed himself a smile during the tiebreaker following a point involving a Santoro drop-shot, a pick-up from Murray, a fall for Santoro, and intervention by the net in Murray’s favour.
Finally, after 2 hours 13 minutes, with the tiebreak score at 5-6, after another drop-shot from Santoro and a pick-up from Murray which landed mercifully on the inside line, Centre Court could breathe again.
It hardly seemed fair that the 35 year old Santoro (I’m sorry, following a recent Doctor Who storyline I keep wanting to call him Sontaran) could still get to and return shots that Murray constantly sent out wide with extra spin. The intensity and tightness of the final set was such that a British fan would be reduced to tearing their hair out, but be laughing while doing so at the sheer flamboyance and skill that went into every point.
The two players seemed to bring back the glory days of an all-court game, as opposed to a baseline battle. Santoro volleyed and came to the net a lot more than has been seen in recent times, and of course Murray was unwilling to stay too long at the baseline and get drawn into long points. Only once, during a 25 shot rally did it look like a modern tennis match.
Although the rousing, warm welcome that saw them emerge onto Centre Court over two hours ago was predominantly for Murray; the ovation that accompanied them off court was undoubtedly for the two of them.