Monday, June 23, 2014 4:58 am
LONDON – Defending champion Andy Murray and last year’s runner-up Novak Djokovic take Centre Court stage as Wimbledon gets underway Monday with both men having urgent points to prove.
A proud Scot he may be but Murray, who ended Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s champion when he cruised past the Serb in the 2013 final, finds himself shoved into the role of British cheerleader following England’s World Cup football misery.
Murray starts his campaign against baby-faced Belgian David Goffin, shrugging off any nationwide post-Brazil stress, preferring to concentrate on a smooth start in the Wimbledon sunshine.
The 27-year-old, who has not made another final since last year’s Wimbledon history-making title, also wants to put those who have criticised his choice of Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach firmly in their place.
“I think Amelie will help me. I’ve really enjoyed the last 10 days I spent on the court with her. It’s been great,” said Murray who has reached at least the semi-finals on his last five appearances at the All England Club.
Goffin, 23, is ranked at 104 and enjoyed a run to the third round in 2012. That came just weeks after he recorded his best result at a major when he came through qualifying to make the fourth round at the French Open, before losing in four sets to Roger Federer.
“He’s played some very good tennis on the big stages before. He played Roger a few years ago at the French Open and pushed him close in four sets,” said Murray.
“He plays well. He doesn’t mind the big stage. He’s a solid player in all parts of the court. It will be a tricky match.”
Djokovic starts against 26-year-old Kazakh, Andrey Golubev who is ranked 55 and has lost all three of his main draw appearances at Wimbledon.
Despite being number two in the world, 2011 champion Djokovic is the top seed over current world number one Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic hasn’t played since losing the French Open final to Nadal two weeks ago and believes the tournament could witness more seismic upsets such as the shock early defeats suffered by both Federer and Nadal 12 months ago.
– Fear of the new wave –
“I feel like there is a new wave of players, especially the younger generation, like (Grigor) Dimitrov and (Milos) Raonic and (Kei) Nishikori who have proved before that they can win against the top guys in the big events,” said Djokovic who has the comfort of knowing he has defeated Golubev twice in their two meetings without losing a set.
“This can easily happen here. Grass is a very rare surface in our sport. It is going to take us some time to get into match play on this surface.”
One of the dangermen, Dimitrov, the Bulgarian 11th seed who won the Queen’s title last week, starts on Monday against American qualifier Ryan Harrison.
In the women’s event, Chinese second seed Li Na, three times a quarter-finalist, faces Polish qualifier Paula Kania, the world 175, who is making her Grand Slam debut.
Former world number one Victoria Azarenka, seeded eight after missing the claycourt season with injury, faces Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a semi-finalist back in 1999.
Czech sixth seed Petra Kvitova, the 2011 champion, faces compatriot Andrea Hlavackova and ex-world number one Caroline Wozniacki meets Israel’s Shahar Peer.
Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher De Brito, who knocked out Maria Sharapova last year, plays another Grand Slam title winning Russian, Svetlana Kuznetsova.