Andy Murray is through to the second round at Wimbledon – but he will be mildly concerned that, for 20 minutes against Mikhail Kukushkin on Centre Court, he utterly lost his way before winning 6-4, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in two hours and 12 minutes.
Partly, that was down to his opponent, ranked 59 in the world but still ambitious and owner of a wicked forehand. The world No3 will probably be most concerned about his erratic serving, winning only 19 of 32 at first attempt, Murray took a while to tame his aggression and his own game was a bit of a mess in the second set, where five breaks of serve broke up the rhythm of the exchanges.
“It was a tough match,” Murray said courtside. “I made it hard for myself at the end of the second set, then he started playing some very aggressive tennis, low over the net. Towards the end of it, I missed 10 or 11 first sets in a row. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve seen some of his results in big matches. He’s a tough opponent when he goes for his shots. Credit to him. There’s definitely work to be done.”
From the beginning, Kukushkin was not shy in the shot, and hit some of his forehands with rasping power at the lines to stay on level terms in the first quarter of an hour. This was Wawrinka tennis: trusting an uncomplicated power game and waiting for his opponent to flag under pressure. Murray had to hold through deuce in the seventh game and the Kazak looked to be growing in confidence.
But when Murray held to love for 5-4, the match took a momentum shift. At 30-all in the 10th game, Kukushkin double-faulted to hand Murray the first of three set points; he saved two, but at the end of an extended rally, he hit long, and the set was Murray’s after 34 minutes of quality tennis.
At the start of the second, Kukushkin double-faulted and Murray broke with a scorching forehand into the ad corner. He held to love with a pair of aces. But a loose service game and some solid hitting by Kukushkin cost Murray the advantage.
Kukushkin was similarly accommodating in the sixth game, shoving a routine forehand long, and Murray was a set and 4-2 up after an hour.
An 86mph serve hit the line and Murray saved with a delicious drop shot, followed by a 129mph serve and a Kukushkin error for 5-2. However, serving for the set after an hour and a quarter, Murray’s radar failed him and Kukushkin got back in the fight again.
The 11th game was the most peculiar of the match. Murray double-faulted, aced, made a lousy challenge and then watched a Kukushkin return whistle down the line for the fifth break of the game, having led 5-2.
The 12th was almost as weird, Kukushkin losing focus entirely as Murray broke again for the tie-break. After a quite spectacular running crosscourt winner for 3-0, Murray raised his fist to the crowd – which he rarely does - and went on to polish off the set without much fuss.
Normal service, of a sort, was resumed in the third. By the time they got to the ninth game, Kukushkin was hanging on again, but held to stay in the contest.
Serving for the match, Murray double-faulted for 15-40, clawed his way back to deuce, then forced a final wayward backhand out of his opponent to wrap it up.
It was his third defeat on Centre Court, having previously lost to Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and his third loss to Murray. But he gave a pretty good account of himself.
This article was written by Kevin Mitchell at Wimbledon, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 30th June 2015 18.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010