Andy Murray looked like a player ready to make a serious bid to defend his Wimbledon title with a dominant showing against Blaz Rola in the second round; 6-1, 6-1, 6-0.
Murray entered the tournament as one of the top contenders alongside his usual "Big Four" foes in Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Breaking through that group in order to win a Grand Slam title has been one of the toughest tasks in sports in recent years.
The Scottish sensation also arrived to the All England Club as the reigning champion. The emotional triumph one year ago led to more pressure this time around as he attempts to defend the title. His status as a local fan favorite and last year's winner also comes with additional off-court commitments.
Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian passed along comments from Murray ahead of the second round. He admitted maintaining his focus through all of the potential distractions is key to another deep run:
You can make up for that with experience and understanding of how to deal with certain situations. You have to look after yourself. At the end of the day it's a sport we are playing—so it's not that hard! But for what we do, yeah, it is challenging to stay mentally focused and sharp.
Murray certainly looked focused from the outset of his match with Rola. He broke the promising 23-year-old Slovenian in the very first game and never looked back in the opening set. It was a returning clinic as he converted three of five break chances.
The set took just 28 minutes. Murray used it to showcase a game that's starting to reach top form again after a sluggish start to the season following some back problems at the end of last year. It was progress that first became evident at the French Open, where he reached the semifinals.
Since the defending champion was playing so well, Rola was forced to take more chances. As The Sun points out, the underdog was trying to make things happen but his shots were sailing long and wide:
Wow, that was quick. Andy Murray has it all his own way against Blaz Rola, who has come out swinging but mostly missing #Wimbledon— The Sun - Tennis (@TheSunTennis) June 25, 2014
Rola finished the set with 13 unforced errors, 11 more than Murray, as the two-time major champion eased to a 6-1 set victory.
It was more of the same in the second set. There were flashes of some really strong play from Rola, but he simply couldn't maintain for nearly long enough to challenge a player the caliber of the one standing on the opposite side of the net.
He wasn't able to make the aggressive game plan work, which left him with little ability to challenge Murray. Bill Rabinowitz of the Columbus Dispatch, the local paper where Rola played college tennis at Ohio State, noted the lopsided scoreline wasn't a shock:
Murray is just too tough for Rola. Factor in jitters and Murray's experience on grass, and 6-1, 3-0 lead not surprising.— Bill Rabinowitz (@brdispatch) June 25, 2014
The second set played out much like the first.
Murray won it 6-1 in around a half hour thanks to a pair of breaks. Rola had eight unforced errors and just one winner. He just didn't have enough firepower to mount any type of comeback bid against Murray, who's one of the best defensive players on tour.
Will Murray defend his Wimbledon crown?
The final set was even more lopsided than the first two. Rola had exhausted all of his options by that point and had very little left to give in the third. Murray proceeded to turn on the afterburner and he closed out the match with a bagel set.
Some outstanding play from the No. 3 seed led to 12 winners, his highest of any set in the match, and just three errors. Rola had double the amount of errors to go with just a single winner.
The match was no contest from start to finish. Rola has some intriguing tools, but facing Murray showed how far he has to go before he's ready to compete with the best players in the world. For Murray, it was nothing more than a light workout.
Wimbledon passed along the match's end sequence:
Tom Perrotta of the Wall Street Journal joked about the difference in level of competition for Rola after his strong collegiate career:
I think Andy Murray would have had a really good chance of winning the NCAA singles tournament.— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 25, 2014
Finally, Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated summed up the one-sided affair:
Viewer discretion advised. Murray d. Blaz Rola 6-1, 6-1, 6-0….— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) June 25, 2014
Moving forward, Murray will play the winner of the second-round clash between the No. 27 seed Roberto Bautista Agut and Jan Hernych. The Scot has never played Bautista Agut and actually holds an 0-1 record against Hernych, but that loss came on clay all the way back in 2005.
He will be the overwhelming favorite regardless of who comes through that match. Tougher opponents are on the horizon, however, with Kevin Anderson, Grigor Dimitrov and David Ferrer among the potential foes before a possible meeting with Djokovic in the semifinals.
It's a tough road that will make defending the title difficult for Murray. The good news for his fans is that he's playing well enough to navigate the tricky draw, at least until the business end of the tournament.