Andy Murray is relishing the prospect of an all-British Wimbledon battle as he looks to summon the spirit of 2016 and continue his searing start to the grass court season.
The Scot, 36, will tussle with compatriot Ryan Peniston on Centre Court this afternoon in a tantalising first round draw at SW19.
Murray grabbed a pair of grass court titles in Surbiton and Nottingham last month and comes into the All England Club showpiece in the best form – and physical shape – for several years since his memorable triumphs in 2013 and 2016 after being hampered by a long-term hip injury.
On the second of those occasions, the three-time Grand Slam champion was also forced to navigate his way past a fellow British player in the opening round as he breezed past Liam Broady in straight sets.
Murray, the current world No.40, will not read too deeply into those parallels from seven years ago and knows he faces a tough test against lower-ranked left-hander Peniston, who reached the second round last year after similarly impressive runs at Eastbourne and Queen’s in consecutive weeks.
Asked if he believes in omens, Murray – who will be rewarded with a box office second round clash against either world No.5 Stefanos Tsitsipas or former US Open champion Dominic Thiem if he overcomes Peniston – said: “I don’t really.
“I mean, I actually have not played against many Brits at Wimbledon before.
“I don’t know, maybe [against Liam] was the last time that happened or maybe the only time. I’m not sure how many Brits I’ve played.
“I know Ryan pretty well – we practiced together quite a lot.
“He obviously likes playing on the grass courts and had some really good wins last year at Queen’s and also Jack Draper in Surbiton. I think he beat Holger [Rune] in Eastbourne.
“He’s had some good wins on the surface. He’s a lefty and moves very well – I need to be ready for that one.
“I feel good and obviously played lots of matches. Physically I’ve been feeling good and I’m ready to go.”
With no Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal in the men’s draw, Murray is one of just two previous Wimbledon winners alongside 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic.
Murray lowered the colours of the Serb back in 2013 to finally banish his Centre Court demons before emulating those memorable exploits against Canadian Milos Raonic three years later.
But Djokovic continues to boast a dominant record against the Scot and now has history in his sights as he eyes up a record-equalling eighth All England Club title.
Murray added: “Regardless of how I was feeling coming in, I would always do my best to be ready for this one.
“If I was to play Novak and I lost in five sets, I can’t say I would walk away from the tournament and be really disappointed if I performed how I still think that I can.
“That’s what I want to do at this tournament. I want to go out there and perform at a level that I’m happy with.
“I feel like I’m in a really good position to do that. I have the experience at this tournament.
“I’ve played on the big courts here more than most. There’s only one player in the draw that has more experience of playing here than me, which is Novak.
“I don’t know this for sure, but I certainly will be one of the only players that’s won against him here. I need to use that to my advantage and use my experience to my advantage.
“I believe I’m one of the best grass court players in the world, and I’m physically feeling really good. I have prepared well, so there’s no reason I can’t have a good tournament.”
The prospect of a second round showdown against Tsitsipas, a two-time Grand Slam finalist, or former world No.3 Thiem got many Murray fans licking their lips when the draw was done on Friday.
But it will be far from a walk in the park against Peniston, who beat cancer as a child and also boasts a black belt in Korean martial art Tang Soo Do.
The current British No.7, 27, underwent chemotherapy and required surgery to remove a tumour following a bout of rhabdomyosarcoma – a soft tissue cancer – with the illness initially inhibiting his growth as a child.
But the Essex ace is a tough customer after taking up the 20th-century martial art – similar to karate – at the age of four and continuing to have lessons into his teenage years.
Peniston soon pivoted his attention towards tennis and after several years plying his trade on the gruelling international circuit, enjoyed a breakthrough season last summer that culminated in a memorable first round Wimbledon win against Swiss star Henri Laaksonen.
He still remembers where he was for Murray’s maiden Wimbledon triumph a decade ago and admits he almost had an accident when he discovered his first round fate.
“I’ve known Andy pretty well since the Battle of the Brits [the team event during lockdown] and we’ve practised quite a lot together,” he said.
“He’s a good guy, definitely.
“I was playing in Ilkley, I think it was a Futures event [back in 2013], and they had it up on the big screen.
“I remember watching it and everyone was crowded around, it was a special moment.
On drawing the former world No.1, Peniston added: “I was driving from my girlfriend’s and I had a text from my coach which just said, ‘Andy, exclamation mark, exclamation mark.’
“It’s pretty cool – I almost crashed.”
For the latest action on the British summer grass court season, check out the LTA website