By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) – Forget the fact that Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert had lost in the opening round of Wimbledon on Monday. There was only one question on everyone’s lips – is the Frenchman fit enough to partner Andy Murray in the doubles?
When the 28-year-old walked onto a sun-drenched Court 3 for his contest against 2018 runner-up Kevin Anderson with his right thigh taped, it set off alarm bells for those who hoped Herbert would enjoy a winning run in the doubles with fan favourite Murray.
With the Scot’s participation confined to only doubles action while he continues to regain his fitness following hip surgery in January, a round of Chinese whispers gathered steam as fans feared Herbert’s injury could scupper Murray’s challenge even before he had hit a ball in anger.
Hence it would have come as little surprise to Herbert when he found himself being bombarded with questions about his doubles prospects rather than the singles match he had just lost in straight sets.
“Yesterday I had a tough time in my practise … I was scared for one of my quads. It was a pain that I didn’t know really. So I was (feeling) really negative,” admitted Herbert.
“As soon as I did the medical tests (yesterday) it was all right, I was feeling better.
“I don’t want to imagine me having to say anything to Andy about an injury or anything,” he added with a wry smile.
Out of the 11 English questions Herbert was asked at the news conference, 10 of them were about hooking up with Murray.
But the doubles specialist took it all in his stride and was relieved to come through the 6-3 6-4 6-2 defeat by Anderson without feeling any twinges.
“I’m more positive now that I played my match. Maybe not the best match I could play, but … my quad feels good. So I hope it’s going to be all right. I think it’s gonna be all right,” he said.
Considering Herbert is a seasoned doubles pro and has won all four majors with former partner Nicolas Mahut, including at the All England Club in 2016, he should be Mr Calm for his engagement with part-timer Mr Murray this year.
“I actually feel more pressure than ever,” said Herbert as he looked forward to playing on the biggest arenas Wimbledon has to offer thanks to his association with Murray.
“It’s something so special. I’m feeling lucky, and I’m so motivated and pumped to play with Andy and to have the luck to play with him here in Wimbledon.
“I’m happy that I’ll have him on my side,” added the Frenchman, who had planned to concentrate on only singles at the grasscourt major until the offer to join forces with two-times singles champion proved too tempting to turn down.
“Andy is someone who rewrote history here in Wimbledon. It’s something so special to be by his side, and that’s why I changed my mind, because I want to live these kind of experiences.”
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Alison Williams)