THE first-ever rugby international was played at Raeburn Place and produced a home win.
So, there was something apt about the prospect of a first British men’s Wimbledon singles winner since 1936 being given credence far and wide on the opening day of the Brodies Champions of Tennis event at the same historic venue in Edinburgh’s Stockbridge.
Ahead of the third Grand Slam of the year which begins on Monday, the Wimbledon finalist of a decade ago, Mark Philippoussis, said “My pick is (Andy) Murray.”
Philippoussis, who overcome Greg Rusedski 7-6, 6-1 in the inaugural Champions match on the specially-constructed court, added: “He (Murray) was my pick last year. Having that experience last year and then, two weeks later, going on to win an Olympic gold medal for his country on the same court against the same player (Roger Federer)...
“Going on to finally win a Slam, getting the monkey off his back with everyone saying ‘is he ever going to do it, is he ever going to do it?’
“That shut everyone up. Now he is ready to play. He won Queen’s and before that took a little bit of time off. He is going to come in that little bit more relaxed.”
Shining a searchlight into the Murray psyche was Rusedski, who said: “He looks relaxed. He has had some time off since the French Open. He has a great coach behind him in Ivan Lendl and a good team.
“I have never seen Andy more relaxed in my life. He looks very comfortable in himself, which is huge.
“There were two events which were massive: getting Federer in the Olympics and beating him put aside the memory of losing the Wimbledon final – that spurred him on to win his first major at the US Open.
“To come back and win in the fifth set was great. He has the monkey off his back, has an Olympic gold medal and hasn’t lost a grass court match since that final at Wimbledon having won at Queen’s. It is absolutely ideal.
“I favour Andy – even though Novak Djokovic has won the Wimbledon title – as a fractionally better grass court player and a better wind player.
“Rafael Nadal is the massive threat. Nine tournaments played (on his comeback), seven wins, nine finals.”
Several years ago, Rusedski played an event in Aberdeen with a teenage Murray.
Has the Scot fulfilled any potential spotted that day?
“The only man in Briton who has ever been better has been Fred Perry and he has the ability to win multiple slams,” said Rusedski.
“Tim (Henman) and I had good careers but he is more. I hit with Federer when he was 16 and I was No . 9 in the world and he was knocking me all round the court and I played with Djokovic and lost to him in Glasgow.
“Andy just had something a little bit different, a little bit of swagger when he was 17. He had the right attitude.
“One of the first times I met him was at the Davis Cup in Austria and Tim (Henman) had hired a private jet for us to get back. Andy said ‘this is going to be me in a few years’. It didn’t sound out of place. You hear some kids say that and you think ‘well, I’m not so sure’ but you could see he had put in the work.
“I saw him play a super set (as a teenager) with John McEnroe and he challenged on Hawk-Eye on the first point.
“Most people wouldn’t be that brave. You could see there was a belief. The first time I hit with him there was a certain weight of shot. You get a feeling of someone’s shot the first time you play and you could really sense that.
“The great players, no matter how they hit the ball, it has a little bit more on it even though they are doing less. He had that from a very young age. All the ingredients were there.”
Live by the serve, die by the serve could have been the mantra for the first day of a quality event which deserved better than galleries approximately one fifth full in the afternoon although the evening attendance was conspicuously better.
A 7-6, 6-3 win for Wayne Ferreira over Mikael Pernfors paved the way for Tim Henman to attempt to reverse the outcome of his epic Wimbledon semi-final 12 years earlier against Goran Ivanisevic.
Just as Phillipoussis had blown away Rusedski, so Ivanisevic thundered down a barrage of aces with one sequence eliciting a shout from the stand of “hit it back, Tim!”
After losing the first set 6-4, Henman won the second set by the same score and then took the match on a ‘Champions’ tie-break which is first to ten points by a two-point margin and he typified the spectacle which suggests sharpness may be lacking but the touch and competitiveness is still there.
Afterwards, too, Ivanisevic added his weight to the ‘Murray for Wimbledon glory’ bandwagon, remarking: “For me Djokovic is favourite (but) Murray has a good chance.
“It was a good move not to play the French Open.
“You have to play seven matches in two weeks and you can’t play all seven good.”
Ivanisevic added: “Lendl has changed his game a lot. He is very, very aggressive. He is not waiting for mistakes. He believes now.
“He was in a couple of finals before but did not play his best tennis until the US Open and Olympic Games. He is ready.
“There is expectation but it would be great for everybody, something special.”
Specially-constructed tennis court gets the thumbs-up from players
The specially-constructed court for the Champions event at Stockbridge can take tennis into new areas, Tim Henman believes.
The former World No.4 set foot on the court at Edinburgh Accies’ rugby ground for the first time yesterday to beat Goran Ivanisevic in a third set ‘champions’ tie-break and later provided a seal of approval.
Just as squash has been played on a demountable court in New York’s Grand Central Station, so promoter Viki Mendelssohn can look forward to taking tennis on the road.
Henman said: “It is a unique, bespoke stadium and it’s a great idea. It goes to show you don’t need to be in a permanent stadium or indoor arena. You can take this anywhere. Hopefully it has some longevity.”
Ivanisevic agreed while acknowledging that the surface, which was stretched over a plastic base and glued, did cause some bad bounces at the end of a day where adhesion was tested by the heat.
Ivanisevic said of the tented structure around which 2500 fans can be seated: “With the bounces they would not be too happy at the ATP, but it was nice. It was a good court.”