LONDON // Andy Murray was in no doubt as he prepared his powerful challenge for Wimbledon glory that he could not expect much help shouldering the massive weight of expectation of the home nation this year. The young Scot knew he was pretty much a solitary standard bearer but even he could not have envisaged being left to fly the British flag on his own so early in the Championships.
But for a last-gasp reprieve in the gathering gloom of Tuesday night provided by his fellow Scot Elena Baltacha there would have been a complete first-round wipe-out of Murray's supporting cast in the two main events. "It's not acceptable," said Murray in a bold shot at the bows of his governing Lawn Tennis Association as he was asked to comment on the casualty list of six Brits in a single day, making this their joint worst Wimbledon in the open era.
A Murray triumph on the final Sunday will, of course, transform that debacle into his country's best Wimbledon since Virginia Wade's 1977 women's singles triumph "Whether there are 10 Brits or one I have to take care of my own business," reflected the world No 3. There was a stage during his nervy Centre Court opener against American Robert Kendrick when Murray was in danger of not taking enough care of himself.
His anxiety transmitted to the home faithful sitting around the court and the hordes gathered on the rechristened Murray Mount - formerly Henman's Hill - after he allowed his 76th-rated opponent to draw level at one set all. The crisis was mercifully brief and Murray recomposed himself to go through in four sets and regroup for the tougher tasks ahead, beginning with today's encounter with Latvia's Ernests Gulbis, ranked two places higher than Kendrick on the world computer.
"I've got a very tough opponent next," said Murray, one of the most thorough players on tour when it comes to doing homework on rivals. "Gulbis has caused some upsets in the past and is a huge hitter of the ball. I'm going to need to be on my game to beat him." That means a considerable improvement is required from the level he reached against Kendrick but Murray is not fazed by that as he sets his sights on what would be a mouth-watering final against the five-time winner Roger Federer.
"I'd have to play some great tennis from now on to get there," he said. "Obviously I've got to win five more matches, and they're going to get tougher every round. "I know what I need to do to get there but I'm not going to start worrying about reaching the final just yet." Andy Roddick knows what it takes to reach a final here - he has lost two of them to Roger Federer - and the American looks set to go far again this year as he and the tall Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro look the most likely contenders to face Murray in the semi-final.
Roddick was well fancied to meet Murray in the final of the Wimbledon warm-up tournament at Queen's Club until retiring with an ankle injury midway through his semi-final against James Blake. He dismissed that fitness problem as "not worth talking about" after his opening-round victory over France's Jeremy Chardy. The sixth-seeded American looks to have an easier assignment today than the fifth-seeded Del Potro, who seeks to find away past the rejuvenated former champion Lleyton Hewitt in what is the pick of today's match-ups.
Hewitt was justifiably buoyant after making short work of the experienced American Robby Ginepri and the Australian enthused: "I was able to dictate when I wanted to. My serve picked up and I felt like I was in all of his service games, which was good. My rhythm's been good in practice. It's a matter of just keeping that going." Regarding his first meeting with the powerful Del Potro, Hewitt commented: "He's a class player. He was only a couple of points from maybe winning the French Open a couple of weeks ago.
"It's a different surface here and He hasn't had the best success on it. But, he's an all-court player and he's got a big game. It's going to be a good challenge." @Email:email@example.com