Murray shows flickers of former self

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LONDON -- A year ago here, he blazed across the British sky like Halley's comet and, as it turned out, his majestic achievement was similarly (and eerily) rare.

Andy Murray became the first homegrown man to capture the Wimbledon title since Fred Perry, some 77 years earlier. The famous fireball -- which next comes around in 2061 -- makes an earthly appearance every 75 years or so.

It was the very thing that Murray and tennis fans from this island nation ached for, but by the end of last summer the championship had been relegated to history. The ensuing months were not all that Murray could have hoped for. He had three relatively lackluster outings in North America, then retired for the season after undergoing back surgery.

This year he failed to advance past the quarterfinals in any of his first nine tournaments before the French Open, but in Paris, Murray showed flickers of his former self. He won five matches before exiting meekly in the semifinals, winning only six games against eventual champion Rafael Nadal.

But here on the yawning lawns of the All England Club, the 27-year-old Murray finds himself back in a comfortable place, on Centre Court of all places. The stage was once too big even to contemplate, but now one suspects he might even enjoy these romps.

"I feel nervous, which is good," Murray said Sunday. "I like that."

A day later, the first of the seven potential steps of his defense went smoothly, as Murray clocked David Goffin, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5. It was Murray's 450th ATP World Tour victory.

His game was as pristine as the gorgeous emerald grass under his feet -- a surface that previously had been untouched by scrambling sneakers.

"The grass is very lush," Murray said in his postmatch news conference. "No bad bounces or anything. It was perfect.

"I played very well. I hit the ball clean from the beginning of the match."

Goffin, a 23-year-old from Belgium who looks 10 years younger, was able to create only two break opportunities -- and failed to cash either of them. Ranked 104th, Goffin was bidding to become the lowest-ranked player to beat Murray at a Grand Slam. It didn't come close to happening for Goffin, who is developing a curious history in these events. After reaching the fourth round in his very first Grand Slam, two years ago at Roland Garros, and then the third round here, Goffin has gone out in the first round in each of the seven majors since.

When Murray walked out onto Centre Court, he was greeted with a rousing standing ovation, prompting a smile when it kept rippling through the stadium.

"Local boy, is he?" a wry scribe asked his neighbor in the press section.

Later Murray said: "Yeah, enjoyed it for the walk to the chair. And then when I sat down, it was time to get on with business." It took Murray all of eight minutes to gain control of the match; he first broke Goffin when a forehand was slapped long, and he soon settled into a nice rhythm. One game later, Murray fell awkwardly, landing on his behind. The crowd gasped as one, but Murray scrambled to his feet and stroked a nonchalant forehand that Goffin sent into the net.

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