ANDY MURRAY lost the first six points of this match.
Given subsequent events there can be only one explanation for this: the Wimbledon champion was instituting a sort of handicap system by giving his Spanish opponent a start.
Murray, the thoroughbred, romped home 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 against Roberto Bautista Agut on the lush turf of Centre Court last night to complete what has been an extraordinarily successful week for the world No.5. The Scot arrived at Wimbledon 2014 having not won a tournament since the last time he was on Centre Court, with back surgery having been endured, and with a premature loss to Radek Stepanek at Queen's.
Loading article content
He may be the favourite with the crowd but he was not with the bookmakers. He has, though, over the course of just five days and three matches, stretched that large frame of his and moved into the cruising speed that is exclusively the preserve of the thoroughbred.
There will be the sceptics who protest that this is merely the first week of Wimbedon and a champion should be expected to progress without alarm. They may well be right but it is the manner of Murray's play that has been immensely impressive.
David Goffin, just outside the top 100, and Blaz Rola, ranked 92, were not expected to be unassailable and Murray did not give up a set. Similarly, he took the straight-sets route to the finish line last night.
But Bautista Agut was an entirely different proposition from the Belgian or the Slovene. At 23, he is now the 23rd best player in the world. He had won all seven of his matches on grass this year, winning the title in 's-Hertoenbosch.
He also has some scalps on his belt, defeating Juan Martin Del Potro at this year's Australian Open and Tomas Berdych at Indian Wells.
He may not have been entitl ed to swagger on to Centre Court but there was a spring in his step and confidence in his game. He started positively and aggressively winning a service game to love and taking the first two points from Murray's serve. He did this with casual assuredness, prevailing in a 20-plus stroke rally and confounding Murray with a marvellous lob.
This was the stage when seasoned Murray watchers may once have winced and muttered a premature but deeply felt: 'Uh oh.' But Murray settled down immediately to imperious tennis. He forced Bautista Agut into a forehand after they had exchanged 27 shots and the rest was a veritable sprint, albeit one hallmarked with undeniable class. Murray bolted home in one hour and 35 minutes.
Any immediate anxiety among the crowd on Centre Court was replaced by a party atmosphere that became just a little wearing when the odd tedious buffoon would shout, interrupting a serving action. However, the majority of the crowd expressed their gratitude loudly and rightly for being entertained in such spectacular fashion.
The statistics will show that Bautista Agut broke Murray's serve twice and this was reward for the Spaniard's undoubted enterprise and laudable perseverance. But he never fully backed Murray into a corner and when he threatened to do so the world No.5 found a way out with the ease of a practised locksmith.
There were periods of the match when Murray became frankly unplayable, most obviously when he sprinted to a 4-0 lead in the third set with Amelie Mauresmo, his coach, muttering "what a great game, what a great game" when the Olympic gold medallist reduced the technically astute and consistently gutsy Bautista Agut to the level of a scrambler on a public park court.
Murray, ever the perfectionist, will have reservations about his first serve percentage that was 59% and 57% in the first two sets before rising to a more acceptable 75% in the third. He may be slightly irked at being broken twice but these were both sustained in moments when they could be brushed off as irritations to his sense of self-satisfaction rather than threats to his supremacy.
He may, too, be looking as ever to strengthen his second serve and make his overheads more emphatic. But Mauresmo and Murray will spend the weekend smoothing the glitches rather than retooling his game before playing Kevin Anderson, the 20th seed, in the last 16 on Monday after the South African beat Fabio Fognini.
"There were a lot of close games and it's good to get it done in straight sets," Murray said after his defeat of Bautista Agut. "He's the best opponent I've played so far, and as a step up I felt I responded well. There's a few things I could improve on but it's a good first week."
He brushed off concerns that he might not be battle ready after three easy victories, saying: "I had enough long matches in the French Open to get me physically ready."
The Scot faced bruising battles against Gael Monfils and Philip Kohlschreiber at Roland Garros and was content to step into the second week of Wimbledon without a mark on his record on, indeed, on his body.
Murray looks in peak condition, moving easily and hitting the ball with a spectacular precision. He has only one complaint.
As the world watched on television and 15,000 roared in delight on Centre Court, Murray was bereft of family in the player's box. His brother Jamie was playing and winning a doubles match with John Peers against Jamie Delgado and Gilles Muller on Court 2. Maw showed a fine burst of pace to make it back to see the triumph of her younger son on a good night for the Murrays but other members of the family could not manage the sprint.
"It's a shame we were on at the same time because none of my family came to watch me," said Murray the younger, with a smile. "I am obviously No.2 son. It's always been the case, that's why I have always been so competitive."
He was speaking in that age-old Scottish form of slagging where a jibe can only be made at loved ones.
But it showed that Murray is relaxed. He is also on a 16-match winning streak after triumphs at last year's championships and the Olympics. And that is a record that is both serious and liable to provoke a smile of contentment on the ever competitive No.2 son.