By Howard Fendrich Associated Press
LONDON — When a 19-stroke exchange ended with Andy Murray’s Wimbledon opponent slapping a forehand into the net, thousands of Centre Court spectators rose in unison.
They applauded Murray’s first service break. They screamed for joy. They waved their Union Jacks and Scottish flags. It was only a third-round match, merely 12 minutes and three games old, yet to some that tiny early edge seemed massively meaningful.
So imagine the reaction, louder and livelier, when the second-seeded Murray finished off his 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 victory over 32nd-seeded Tommy Robredo of Spain less than two hours later Friday to advance to Week 2. And then, for a moment, try to fathom what would happen if Murray ever were to win the final point of The Championships, as the Grand Slam tournament is known around here, and become the first British man in 77 years to hoist the trophy.
“You need to be professional enough to not let that stuff bother you and just concentrate on each match,” said Murray, who has won 20 of his past 21 contests on grass, including runs to last year’s final at the All England Club and a London Olympics gold medal. “I did a good job of that today. I played well. My best match of the tournament, so far.”
The locals’ hopes that Murray will follow up his 2012 U.S. Open victory with another major title, this time at Wimbledon, only increased in the aftermath of surprisingly early losses this week by seven-time champion Roger Federer, two-time winner Rafael Nadal and two-time semifinalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
All were seeded in the top six, and all were on Murray’s half of the draw. Their departures mean the most daunting obstacle in Murray’s path — until a potential final against No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, anyway — might very well be surging expectations.
“There’s a lot more pressure on me now, with them being out,” Murray acknowledged after compiling 40 winners and only 14 unforced errors against Robredo, taking advantage of the zero-wind conditions under the closed retractable roof.
“I mean, I don’t read the papers and stuff. But there are papers in the locker room,” Murray continued with a chuckle, “so you see some of the headlines and stuff. It’s not that helpful.”
Nadal’s stunning first-round exit, for example, was viewed mainly through the prism of how that result helped Murray, who could have faced the 12-time major champion in the semifinals. “Adios Rafa. Hello Andy. Wimbledon dreams again,” read a headline in The Times of London. The Daily Mail’s take: “Great start for Andy — Rafa’s out.”
All in all, then, Friday was a perfectly British day, and not simply because Murray won his third straight-set match in a row. The lone other remaining singles player from the host country, 19-year-old Laura Robson, made her way into the third round at Wimbledon for the first time, defeating 117th-ranked qualifier Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia 6-4, 6-1.
That match, like Murray’s, was played with the Centre Court covered because of rain that played havoc with the schedule, and Robson heard her share of rowdy support, too. She also was serenaded with the “Awwwwwww” that often accompanies a mistake by a player the crowd really cares about.
“I love when people get involved,” Robson said. “Sometimes they do, like, a massive groan if I hit a double-fault, but I’m doing it as well. So, yeah, we’re just living it together.”
A few hours after Robson’s match ended, putting her in Wimbledon’s third round for the first time, a bookmaker sent out a release noting that her odds of winning the tournament went from 80-1 to 33-1.
Robson eliminated 10th-seeded Maria Kirilenko in the first round, part of a wild first week. All told, four top-10 men (each on Murray’s half, coincidentally) and six top-10 women lost already, equaling the worst performance by the highest seeds at any Grand Slam tournament in the 45-year history of the Open era.
Speaking about the anyone-can-beat-anyone feel, 37th-ranked Jurgen Melzer of Austria said: “There has been so much talk about it, you cannot ignore it.”
He did manage to put a stop to it, however, at least as far as Sergiy Stakhovsky was concerned. Two days after serving-and-volleying his way past defending champion Federer, Stakhovsky played like a guy ranked 116th, losing 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 to Melzer.
“I think,” Stakhovsky said, “I just played stupid.”
It’s a common sight at major tournaments: An unknown player knocks out a big name, then fails to follow it up with another victory.
The same thing happened to 66th-ranked Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who went from beating 12th-seeded Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open titlist, on Wednesday to losing to No. 19 Carla Suarez Navarro 7-5, 6-2 on Friday. And 131st-ranked qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal, who eliminated four-time major champion Maria Sharapova in the second round, then bowed out 7-5, 6-2 against 104th-ranked Karin Knapp of Italy in the third.
“That was a huge win for me,” Larcher de Brito said. “But it was tough for me to hang in there today.”
Among Friday’s noteworthy results: Grega Zemlja became the first Slovenian man to reach Wimbledon’s third round by edging No. 29 Grigor Dimitrov 11-9 in the fifth set of a match suspended by rain Thursday night and interrupted again Friday; No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz’s serves reached 140 mph and he delivered 30 aces in a straight-set victory over No. 15 Nicolas Almagro; No. 4 David Ferrer, the runner-up to Nadal at the French Open, also won, as did 35-year-old Tommy Haas.
In women’s play, wild-card entry Alison Riske gave the U.S. a fourth woman in the round of 32 — no American men made it that far for the first time in 101 years — and plays Saturday against Kaia Kanepi of Estonia, who defeated No. 7 Angelique Kerber 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.
Riske joins countrywomen Serena Williams, the defending champion; No. 17 Sloane Stephens; and Madison Keys. Stephens’ third-round match against Petra Cetkovska of the Czech Republic was suspended Friday night because of fading light after they split the first two sets. Two other matches were halted in progress, one with 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova trailing No. 25 Ekaterina Makarova 2-1 in the third set.
Showers delayed play on a start-and-stop day, and four scheduled men’s matches never even got going.
Even though he was able to face Robredo thanks only to the roof that was installed in 2009, Murray said he’s not a big fan.
“It’s an outdoor tournament,” Murray said. “It’s better if we get to play outside.”
That said, he likes the way the indoor conditions allow him to swing away, and Murray was on-target throughout — with his serves, his returns, his volleys, his groundstrokes. He won 60 of 80 points on his serve, including 14 of 15 in one stretch. He broke Robredo four straight times, then again in the next-to-last game.
Robredo, mind you, is no slouch. He’s been ranked as high as No. 5, albeit back in 2006. He’s been a major quarterfinalist a half-dozen times. At this year’s French Open, he became the first man in 86 years to erase two-set deficits in three consecutive Grand Slam matches. And he entered Friday with a 2-2 record against Murray in tour-level events.
But they hadn’t played in an official tournament since 2009, and they’d never met on grass or at a major, two categories where Murray is excelling lately.
After lingering on court to sign autographs — one excited boy hugged an oversized tennis ball adorned with his man’s signature as though it were the most precious thing he’d ever held — Murray was asked whether last year’s success at the Summer Games and Flushing Meadows alleviated Britain’s intense desire for him to win it all at the All England Club.
“Uh, no, from what I’ve heard,” he replied. “People are putting even more pressure on me because of the nature of how the draw’s worked out. I’ve just got to try and stay focused, not worry about that stuff. But it’s hard.”