Britain’s Andy Murray took advantage of the Centre Court roof last night to earn himself the weekend off and a place in the Wimbledon last 16.
He beat Ivan Ljubicic, a Croatian with an alarming bald pate and, now and again, some alarmingly powerful shots in four sets just before 10pm. The sliding roof, installed in 2009, was greeted by two exceptionally dry Wimbledons. Last night it earned its keep, particularly in the eyes of BBC executives, who had an unexpected night in ratings heaven.
Murray knows he will now play the Frenchman Richard Gasquet, the 17th seed, on Monday. However, his main rival in the top half of the draw, Rafael Nadal, was exiled for the day to roofless Court One; his match against Gilles Muller of Luxembourg was abandoned for the day (with Nadal one set up) when the rain started in late afternoon, so he has to return to the office today.
After losing the second set, Murray did his job competently, and sometimes more than that. For him, and everyone else, it has been a muddling week of indifferent weather with few delights or surprises.
But this is a good thing in terms of setting up Week Two, which could be one of the most competitive for years in both men’s and women’s events. When a major player makes an early exit from an event like this, it is like the scriptwriters writing out a much-loved soap star. There is a lot of instant gratification, but it closes off the options for future storylines. This tournament still has a vast number of possibilities.
But so far the biggest story has been Wimbledon’s decision to switch off the giant TV screen and close Henman Hill when it rained for fear someone might hurt themselves, a decision that was attacked as absurd even by the Health and Safety Executive (new motto: “So what the heck? Everyone dies sometime!”)
One major name stumbled yesterday – on the court, not the hill. Andy Roddick, loser to Roger Federer in the epic 2009 final, went out less heroically to Feliciano Lopez of Spain. This was a surprise but not a shock: Roddick, though only 28, increasingly wears the air of an ageing warrior as he contemplates life on the list of great Wimbledon never-wazzers like Ken Rosewall and Ivan Lendl.
Lopez, a player of intermittent talent, served magnificently. Roddick’s serves still came down like cannonballs from a mountaintop but the direction-finder was off-beam just enough to give Lopez his chances. And he won, after two tie-breaks, in straight sets.
As he left the court, head down, Roddick ignored the autograph-hunters, then tossed his racket to a small boy, as if it were an old toy he had just outgrown. But he denied any thoughts of retirement: “You keep moving forward until you decide to stop. At this point I’ve not decided to stop so I’ll keep moving forward.”
Long before Murray got on court, he achieved his customary status as the last British player in either singles tournament. This happened much later in the week than usual, partly because both Laura Robson and Elena Baltacha had their earlier matches delayed.
Visions of glory flickered for them both yesterday: 17-year-old Robson actually went 3-0 up in the first set against the 2004 champion Maria Sharapova of Russia, and everyone on Court One got very excited. Sharapova did indeed seem out of sorts and her usual grunt turned into a shriek, achieving decibel levels that must have rattled windows north of the Thames and possibly caused seismographs to twitch in Patagonia.
Sharapova, the fifth seed, eventually prevailed without ever looking like this year’s champion. “I was maybe Russian a little out there today,” she said today. A fascinating line of thought, but perhaps she said “rushing”.
Baltacha actually won the first set against Shuai Peng of China, seeded 20, and got to 5-5 in the decider. Then, I guess, someone whispered: “Remember you’re British.”