Andy Murray's a grass act as king of Queen's
As preparation for Wimbledon, which begins in seven days' time, Andy Murray could not have wished for better. The world No 3 won the Aegon Championships here for the fourth time yesterday by playing the best grass-court tennis we have seen from him since he ended Britain's 77-year wait for a Wimbledon men's singles champion two summers ago.
Having completed a 6-3, 7-6 victory over Viktor Troicki in his delayed semi-final in the morning, the Scot went on to beat Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-4 in a final that lasted only 64 minutes.
Murray has experienced as many downs as he has ups since enjoying his finest hour at the All England Club 23 months ago, but finally appears to be back where he was before he underwent back surgery at the end of 2013. Since his defeat to Borna Coric in Dubai nearly four months ago, he has lost only three matches - all of them to Novak Djokovic. Murray has won 41 matches since the start of this year, which is more than he has ever achieved going into Wimbledon.
The Scot believes he is playing better now than when he won his All England Club title. "I think you just have to improve," Murray said. "If you don't continue to improve and get better, there are going to be people that will take your spot.
"I feel like I have improved. Physically, I'm definitely in a better place than I was then. I feel like I'm using my variety very well just now."
Few players can live with Murray when he plays as brilliantly as this on grass. He bamboozled both of yesterday's opponents with a bewitching mix of drop shots, lobs, sliced backhands and pounding ground strokes. Whether he was hitting trademark passing shots from the baseline or following bold approaches into the net, he almost invariably found the right strategy at the right time.
Murray also served beautifully. Against Troicki he put 79% of his first serves in court - he has bettered that figure on grass only once before - and against Anderson he did not have to defend any break points.
In winning his 34th title - which came with more than £270,000 in prize money - Murray joined John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt as the only men to win this tournament four times in the Open era. Murray has won it every other year since his first triumph in 2009.
After his previous victory here two years ago, Murray went on to win Wimbledon, but he insisted: "That means nothing, really. It's obviously great preparation, but I think it has happened only seven times where someone has won Queen's and gone on to win Wimbledon. There are no guarantees that winning here gives you a Wimbledon title. I need to go out there and earn it."
Murray will take today off but from tomorrow he will be working at Wimbledon with his coach, Amelie Mauresmo, who arrives tonight. For the last week he has been in the hands of Jonas Bjorkman, who joined his coaching team earlier this year. The Scot has a 100 per cent record working with the Swede, whose only other week with Murray at a tournament was when he won his first clay-court title in Munich last month.
Murray's semi-final, which had been halted the previous evening by heavy rain, began with Troicki serving at 3-3 and facing his sixth break point of the game. The Serb opened with a service winner, but two points later Murray broke with a superb lob. Troicki won only one more point in the set.
The Serb, nevertheless, made the first break of the second set, only to let Murray back into the match at 4-4 when he netted what should have been a routine forehand volley on break point. The world No 25 led 2-0 in the tie-break, but Murray won seven of the last nine points, securing victory after one of the best rallies of the day. Having retrieved a drop shot and then a lob, Murray put up a fine lob of his own, upon which Troicki put his smash into the net.
Two and a half hours later Murray was quickly into his stride in the final. In the fourth game Anderson fluffed what should have been an easy smash on break point. Murray went on to serve out for the first set, with the final point an example of the British No 1 at his inventive best as a wickedly curving backhand slice forced Anderson into a forehand error.
The 6ft 8in South African had hit 96 aces in winning his first four matches here. He fired another 10 past Murray and served well throughout, but at 2-2 Murray made it two break point conversions out of two when he played a drop shot winner after a thrilling point. Murray served out for victory five games later, completing the job with two unreturned serves.
"I served extremely well," Murray said. "I wasn't expecting to have loads of opportunities, with the way he had been serving this week and the way the courts were playing. Thankfully, when the chances came, I managed to come up with some instinctive shots."