LONDON (Reuters) - As Andy Murray rightly pointed out the record book will show a straight-sets victory over a potentially testing opponent, but for 20 minutes of his 6-4 7-6(3) 6-4 Wimbledon win against Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin on Tuesday the wheels came off.
After Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer, his potential last eight and semi-final opponents, laid down emphatic markers, Murray was given a far more exerting first-round workout as his 59th-ranked foe applied the pressure.
The third seed and 2013 champion looked on course to cruise through when he broke in the 10th game to clinch the first set and immediately broke again to take a 2-0 lead in the second.
But Kukushkin found his rhythm and started to exploit Murray’s increasingly erratic serve in a short-lived spell that took him to within one game of the second set.
As the mercury soared to a courtside temperature of 41 Celsius on a sweltering second day at the All England Club, Murray melted and was broken three times as the Kazakh took a 6-5 lead and served for the second set.
Perhaps befitting a player who had lost 10 of his 17 first-round appearances at a major, Kukushkin could not hold his nerve, dropped serve and was soundly beaten in the tiebreak as Murray raced into a 6-1 lead and closed it out after another brief wobble on serve.
Business as usual then resumed and Murray, among the favorites to clinch a second Wimbledon title this year, broke in the fifth game of the third set and closed it out when Kukushkin fired a backhand wide.
“It doesn’t say on this match report how well I played, it just says that I won the match. That’s the most important thing,” said Murray fingering a sheet of paper he had brought with him to his post-match news conference.
Yet he admitted it had not been the show he had wanted to put on his return to Wimbledon.
“It’s a bit frustrating because you obviously want to go out there and perform as best you can, whereas today I didn’t feel like I was able to do that because of the way that he was playing,” he said.
Murray has enjoyed a run of results that had many people tipping him to retain his title, after a fourth Queens Club crown and two unprecedented claycourt successes in the European spring.
He will hope to rediscover that form in his second-round match against Dutchman Robin Haase on Thursday.
Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Ed Osmond