If fatherhood becomes Andy Murray off the court – he did well not to explode when asked this week if his baby daughter, Sophia, was Scottish or English – his tennis too has an air of quiet authority about it.
His return after a month’s parenting was not flawless and there was the odd gesticulation towards the bench during his 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 win over poor Taro Daniel in the opening match of Great Britain’s Davis Cup tie against Japan here in Birmingham, but generally Murray resembled nothing more threatening than a mildly perturbed vicar.
“It was amazing. Thank you for your support right from the beginning,” Murray told the crowd courtside. “The last few weeks have been the best of my life, very special. It’s been tough the past few days being away from her, but I’m glad to be here representing my country.
“The second set was tough, a lot of close games, which was good for me. I was getting a little bit out of breath – which was good for me. My first serve worked extremely well today.”
Daniel, ranked 87 in the world and no stranger to a lion’s den, looked overwhelmed from the start, although Murray was an unusually welcoming host. Consecutive double faults in the second game handed Murray the first of six service breaks, before the world No 2 did his best to repay the favour.
A pair of overcooked forehands, an misjudged drop shot and a botched smash gave Daniel a look-in during the third game, but Murray held after seven anxious minutes for a 3-0 lead.
Daniel got on the board after 25 minutes, and his spirits rose, but Murray’s tennis was just “too big” for the slightly built 23-year-old from California – Daniel’s second serve, of which there were eight in the first set, averaged just 88 miles an hour; a lot of Murray’s groundstrokes were quicker.
The Scot closed out the first set on his own serve, when his nervous opponent framed a forehand that hit the gantry holding the lights.
Daniel held his own for the next 20 minutes or so, until a pressured forehand billowed the net in the seventh game of the second set, and Murray powered on to a 2-0 lead after just under an hour.
Within half an hour the job was done. There was a minor scare at 15-all in the fifth game when Murray grabbed at his left ankle after slipping in pursuit of a drop shot – he also nearly fell during a recent photoshoot – but there seemed no cause for concern in his strong finish.
Particularly memorable was a rally of the highest order at deuce in that game – which Daniel must have reckoned was his for the taking before watching a backhand flash past him at an unbeatable angle into the corner.
The Japanese No2 stuck to his lost cause admirably, trading drop shots on level terms and grabbing break point before Murray drove his 13th ace past him. He held for 4-1, broke again and, serving out, added a fifth double fault before a 15th ace sealed the win.
Murray, averaging 121mph on his first serve, struck 19 clean winners and forced Daniel into error 44 times in all. Those were numbers even the biblical Daniel would have been hard pressed to overcome.
This article was written by Kevin Mitchell at the Barclaycard Arena, for theguardian.com on Friday 4th March 2016 15.17 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010