As one old master watched on, another moved on. Roger Federer was back at Wimbledon, nodding with approval in the royal box, as Andy Murray breezed into the second round with a 6-3, 6-0, 6-1 victory against the Englishman Ryan Peniston.
It was Murray’s most emphatic win here since 2014, and afterwards he issued a bullish bulletin on his chances – and indicated that the heavy rain on Tuesday may help him go deeper in the tournament.
“It’s been a long time since I have felt physically good coming into Wimbledon,” he said. “I’m fit and ready for a good run. And I’m playing well enough to beat most of the players in the draw if I play well.”
Murray will have a scheduling advantage after the inclement weather left his next opponent – either the No 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas or the former US Open champion Dominic Thiem – having to finish their match on Wednesday.
“It’s tough for the players that got rained off. But any time you get the chance to finish a match quickly and can conserve some energy is a really positive thing. Hopefully the deeper I go in the tournament the fresher I will be.”
When play stopped on No 2 Court, Thiem was 6-4, 3-4 ahead. But whoever comes through, Murray clearly fancies his chances of winning. And why not? Even at 36, and with that metal hip, Murray keeps repeating that he remains among the world’s top grass-court players. It is a defiant mantra but it also carries a frisson of truth.
When you take out Novak Djokovic and the world No 1, Carlos Alcaraz, who else is there that is clearly better? Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios are injured, Daniil Medvedev and Casper Ruud appear allergic to the green stuff, and the rest of the NextGen stars – Holger Rune, Seb Korda, Jannik Sinner – are still adapting.
Certainly Murray was encouraged by his first straight-sets win at Wimbledon since 2017, as well as the sight of the Princess of Wales and Federer cheering him on.
“It was amazing to have some royalty and also some tennis royalty here,” he said, as Centre Court roared its approval. Federer was then asked for his assessment. “Very good,” he replied, to more laughs and cheers.
Afterwards Murray said he enjoyed having Federer, whom he has battled many times here, watching on. “I didn’t find it strange,” he said. “It was nice to have him there. Pete Sampras has sat up there and watched Roger and Rafa. And Rod Laver has been at a bunch of matches at the Australian Open.”
There was not much to thrill the crowd, at least initially. Both men have practised a lot together, which perhaps helped explain the choppy opening set, which was played out to polite applause and the incessant patter of rain on the Centre Court roof.
But after saving break points at 1-1 and 2-2, Murray began to find his flow. It helped that Peniston was also handing out cheap gifts, with a backhand error into the tramlines securing Murray’s first break of the match at 4-2.
Soon Murray also had the first set to his name but the intermittent quality was summed up by the fact that, between them, they had hit 10 winners and 27 unforced errors in the opening stanza. “I was quite nervous at the beginning but once I got the break in the first set I played some good stuff. There were some good signs there.”
Murray was certainly a different player after that. He broke immediately at the start of the second, and raced through the set, winning it to love, before taking the third 6-1. “As the match went on, unforced errors, I cut them out. I was pretty ruthless at the beginning of the second and third sets. There was no sort of dip in intensity or anything. I got ahead early in those sets, did well.”
The 27-year-old Peniston – who had rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer, which initially inhibited his growth as a child – deserves great credit for his play. But while he does have reasonable grass-court pedigree for someone ranked 268 in the world, having defeated two top-10 players in Ruud and Rune last year, he had no answers to Murray’s quiet dissection.
“I had quite a few games where I was 30-love up, things like that, and had game points,” Peniston said. “But he was relentless on every point. That’s why the scoreline was like it was.”