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McIlroy makes Wimbledon appearance

6/28/2011 - Tennis

WIMBLEDON, England -- It didn't take a Marion Bartoli -- she of the supposed 175 IQ -- to figure out something was up at the practice courts Tuesday at Wimbledon.

About a dozen photographers stood at the ready, like sharks circling prey. Given the numbers, you knew they were expecting someone other than even the Great British hope, Andy Murray.

Word eventually got around that U.S. Open golf champion Rory McIlroy, buddies with Rafael Nadal, was in the house and would partake in a staged, brief televised get together with Murray and John McEnroe.

McIlroy duly made his entrance in a dapper dark suit, but Murray, readying for a hit with Daniel Nestor, almost missed the occasion, not knowing the Northern Irishman was nearby. He had to be told, in fact, that McIlroy was behind him. Oops.

Eventually, McIlroy met Murray and McEnroe as cameras rolled. McEnroe, not surprisingly, looking the most comfortable of the trio. In a few minutes they went their separate ways, with McIlroy later showing up at Centre Court to watch Bartoli on women's quarterfinals day.

More Murray

Murray, again, is three matches away from ending Great Britain's men's Grand Slam drought. He'll likely have to go through Nadal, whose left foot injury isn't as serious as first thought.

How big would it be if Murray ends the 75 years of hurt?

A reporter from the Sun, England's top-selling tabloid, suggested the only thing to trump such an occurrence is England winning soccer's World Cup. So, bigger than McIlroy's recent title and England winning the 2003 rugby World Cup.

Hugh Macdonald, a scribe with Scotland's Herald newspaper, suspects Murray will be the only Scottish man to have a shot at landing a Grand Slam crown for the extended future, certainly in a lifetime or two. Scotland has produced gold-medal sprinters, accomplished boxers and major-winning golfers, but no tennis greats.

"It's like Russia having a world champion surfer," Macdonald said.

Murray was in good spirits as he hit with Nestor, a locker room comedian and thus always good for a few laughs.

Why would Nestor, a 38-year-old doubles specialist, be trading groundstrokes with Murray? Murray was preparing for Feliciano Lopez, like Nestor a lefty with a potent serve, in Wednesday's quarterfinals.

Nestor went largely unnoticed when heavy rain forced a premature end to practice, until he was intercepted by doubles partner Max Mirnyi.

"Moment of glory?" Mirnyi asked.

"Yeah," Nestor replied with a grin.

New balls, please

With a busy Monday completed, players have thinned at Wimbledon's main practice pavilion. But fans are still out in numbers, trying to get their hands on anything possible.

Some young French supporters were clamoring for Michael Llodra's rackets as the eccentric veteran departed.

"Then what would I play with?" Llodra asked with a big smile.

One of them replied, "Michael Llodra talked to me!"

Eventually he threw a couple of balls in their direction.

Good Goran, bad Goran, returning Goran

Lefties were the order of the day.

None other than Goran Ivanisevic, who won here precisely 10 years ago, dropped by to speak to veteran Croatian journalist Neven Berticevic, accompanied by Mario Tudor.

Ivanisevic wasn't feeling overly nostalgic, as it turned out.

"Listen, 10 years, it's not a big deal for me," Ivanisevic told Berticevic. "It really doesn't matter. The only thing that matters to me is that I won."

Tudor was in Ivanisevic's corner during the fortnight in 2001 and now works with Aussie Bernard Tomic, who has Croatian roots. Tomic emulated Ivanisevic this week by reaching the quarterfinals as an 18-year-old.


London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.