At last, Andy Murray looks a real contender at Wimbledon
Who'd have thought there’d be days like these for Andy Murray. Routine ones I mean. The sort that great players have at the start of the second week of a slam.
For Murray is a man transformed from a year and a half ago. Yes we still have the mini tantrums, the pained expressions and the occasional stops to massage aches and pains.
But there is now something else about the 26-year-old Scot. A certainty. A confidence that he has his place at the very top of his profession.
That dam-busting Olympic win almost a year ago where he performed without demons and with the whole of the nation at his back has changed him. Removed the doubt that he had a right to be here.
Yesterday on Centre Court, the place of tears and triumph in the space a few short summer weeks in 2012, we saw imperious Murray. Apart from a wobble in the second set Murray took apart the 26 seed Mikhail Youzhny with ease 6-4, 7-6, 6-1.
The Russian is a beautiful player, full of tricks and possessing an old fashioned one handed back hand that makes you long for the days of wooden racquets.
The 31-year-old is just the sort of person who would have found a way to get under Murray’s skin a couple of years back. But yesterday he was simply blown away by the US Open champion’s power and range.
He’s a hulking brute now is Murray up close with a body toned like a Bondi beefcake.
It’s perfect for the type of tennis he likes. Boxing is his favourite sport and you can see why.
Time and time again yesterday he used something akin to Ali’s rope-a-dope technique drawing his opponent in, taking the blows and counter punching with precision.
It is exhausting and demoralising for opponents and long before the end Youzhny had had enough.
Yesterday, seasoned Murray watchers opined that this was not vintage but out on the court it is the accuracy of his strokemaking that impresses. Time and time again Youzhny spent huge amounts of energy trying to manoeuvre his opponent around the court only to find that counterpunching forehand and double handed backhand landing right at his feet.
The first set was so predictable that the crowd, snoozing in the sun, took it for granted. “Come on Andys” were sporadic and the oohs and aahs were as much for that classic Russian backhand as anything else.
Murray is not a stylist, will never be filed under McEnroe or Federer, but in that first set were enough exquisite drop shots and beautifully disguised arched lobs to suggest that as he matures further this part of his game will develop.
In the second set Murray appeared as becalmed as the crowd and slipped 5-2 behind. Old Murray would have been bound for a tortuous five-setter. But new Murray roared back and when the Scot hit a zinger of a forehand down the line to break the Russian and bring it back to 4-5 his fist pumping dance brought the crowd to their feet.
Suddenly they were his and lame Mexican waves that had punctured the breaks were replaced by football-style Murray chants.
In the box, coach Lendl looked bored but that is a pretty big part of his job. There’s enough chest thumping and fist clenching from the rest of his entourage, including Judy, so a former champion in your corner who looks like he’d rather be on the golf course is just what Murray needs.
Having come back from 5-2 down to win the tie breaker comfortably with some fearsome aces Youzhny was done. Almost 30 per cent of Murray’s serves were unreturned, 15 of them aces, compared to just 9 per cent for his opponent.
With a trainer on as his right shoulder, the source of that lovely backhand, froze up it was about done for the Russian. The third set took all of 37 minutes.
As he polished off the last game with ease the crowd rose to acclaim something genuine. Not a Tim or a Greg, a good loser.
A world beater, who on this form only has a certain Serbian master standing in the way of him and history. If anyone can bring an end to the need to bring up Fred Perry every June it’s this guy. On an average day when he didn’t really have to get out of third gear, Murray looked like the real deal.
And if he is looking for a lesson to get him over the line he could do worse than take a leaf out of the German Sabine Lisicki’s book. The 24th seed caused the shock of the day ousting Serena Williams in a magnificent match on the Centre just prior to Murray’s. Out for a couple of years with an ankle injury Lisicki refused to look over the net and recognise invincibility.
With Serena in one of those insousciant moods (you can tell by the way she fumbles the ball around her ankles when preparing to serve) it was the perfect setting for a never-say-die spirit. Rolled over 6-1 in the second set having taken the first 6-2 it looked all over and those who said we might as well give the trophy to the American now were giving told-you-so nods.
But that didn’t factor in the smiling German suddenly finding her booming serve and some breath-taking forehand passing shots to win the decider. By the time Williams realised there was a match on it was over and there was no time to search for the next gear.
For Murray Verdasco is up next and the path to the final looks, well, routine. There though he might have to borrow some of Lisicki’s gung-ho mentality to go with his prize-fighter’s philosophy if he is to end this 77 years of hurt.