It was as if a race was underway between three of the top-10 players in action on the opening day at Wimbledon 2017. All three – Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori won in straight sets to seal their passage into the second round. But if the race was actually a serious one, then Nishikori won it by a mile. The Japanese player ‘wasted’ just 72 minutes in beating Marco Cecchinato 6-2, 6-2, 6-0. It was smooth passage for the other title contenders as Murray got the better of Alexander Bublik 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in a match that was stopped briefly for rain and later the roof covered the Centre Court. Nadal registered his 850th career title win against Australia’s John Millman to seal passage with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Murray came into the tournament with a sore hip and at times there were hints of it as he moved around at the baseline but it was never enough to stop him from competing and progressing into the second round – where he faces Dustin Brown. “My hip felt good. It’s a little bit sore, but I was moving really good on the court today,” said Murray, who is the first British man to be seeded number one at Wimbledon since Bunny Austin in 1939. “If you’re in a little bit of pain, but you can still run as you normally do, that doesn’t affect how you play.”
Asked about his limp between points, he added: “Whether it’s something that’s just happened… like, subconsciously, my hip’s been sore, I have no idea. I’m not in a lot of pain when I’m walking, that’s for sure.”
Some feared he would not compete and if he did, he was not fit enough to put in a challenge against the debutant and lucky loser Bublik from Kazakhstan. The naysayers predicted he would become the third player after Manuel Santana in 1967 and Lleyton Hewitt in 2003 to lose in the first round. But when the match began, Murray proved the detractors wrong and convincingly so.
Just as Murray got done, Nadal stepped up on Court 1. The Spaniard who skipped the grass court tournaments following his tenth French Open title, has had a disastrous run at the All England Club since 2011. He has lost to players outside the top 100 for three straight years and skipped the tournament altogether last year.
In his milestone 850th match win, he became the seventh player to reach the figure after Roger Federer, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Guillermo Villas. Nadal, playing his 50th Wimbledon match, needed just an hour and 46 minutes to get the better of Millman.
“I haven’t had many matches on grass for the last few years, but I had some positive feelings,” Nadal said. “For all the players it’s so special to play here, especially for me with all the history I have here. It’s very emotional to be back. I’m happy with the way I started. I’ve been playing well since the beginning of the season. The clay-court season was special for me and now I have an opportunity to compete on grass.” Nadal next faces USA’s Donald Young in the second round.
Nishikori meanwhile was done even before many even get ready. Playing against Cecchinato, Kei barely broke sweat to demolish the Italian who was playing his first tour level match.
Mobbed by dozens on Court 12, Nishikori started brutally – with a backhand winner down the line – and got better as the contest went on. In a faultless third set which he laced with delicate drop shots, the match was closed out with an emphatic volley.