Majestic Murray in the groove and unstoppable form
It is easy to take Andy Murray's consistent excellence for granted on what has become his home court but the 27-year-old Scot delivered a performance of explosive brilliance here last night to book his place in the second week of Wimbledon for the sixth year in a row.
Murray's 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut on Centre Court was his third straight-sets win in succession this week and by some margin his most impressive.
Murray, who has now won 16 matches in a row at Wimbledon, has dropped only 19 games in reaching next week's fourth round, which is seven fewer than his previous best at the All England Club in 2010.
In beating the world No 23 he took a significant step up in class compared with his previous victories over David Goffin and Blaz Rola.
Bautista Agut, who won his first title at a grass-court tournament in the Netherlands last week, is one of the game's most improved performers but was swept aside by a merciless performance from his occasional training partner.
The world No 5 needed just 95 minutes to secure a second-round meeting on Monday with Kevin Anderson, a 6ft 8in South African with a big serve and a big game.
Every department of Murray's game looked in good order, even if he did play two loose service games.
He dropped only five points when his first serve found the target, punished his opponent's serve with some thunderous returns, hit some stunning ground strokes and moved around the court with his customary sure-footed speed.
Bautista Agut, a baseline drone who plays as though he fears getting a nosebleed if he dares to venture up the court, had clearly forgotten to pack a Plan B in his racket bag.
With neither the serve nor the power to hurt Murray, the Spaniard (pictured) could do little more than stand upright and take the Scot's punches on the chin.
However, Murray insisted afterwards: "He's the best opponent that I've played so far. He was a step-up but I felt like I responded well.
"I thought there were a few things I could do a little bit better, but it's been a good first week. Now I can rest up and be fresh for Monday."
After a lunchtime start on Court One in Murray's previous match, normal service was resumed with an early-evening appointment on Centre Court. The afternoon rain which had been forecast never arrived and by the time the players came on to court just after 6pm the last of the sunshine on a glorious evening lit up one corner of the court, the rest of which was in shadow.
Bautista Agut began confidently enough, holding for 1-0 and then going 30-0 up on Murray's serve in the second game. That was about as good as it got for the man from Valencia. Murray held serve and broke to love in the following game, courtesy of two thumping forehand winners and two errors by Bautista Agut. After breaking again in the seventh game Murray served out for the set in just 27 minutes.
On the first point of the second set a Murray shot clipped the top of the net and trickled over on to Bautista Agut's side of the court. The Spaniard reacted with the look of a man who had just lost his spade after being asked to remove all the sand from the beach at Torremolinos. Bautista Agut went on to hold serve but two subsequent breaks took Murray into a 5-2 lead.
Murray played a poor service game as Bautista Agut broke for 5-3, but order was quickly restored. The Scot, seeming to vent his anger at dropping his serve, hit a sensational corner-to-corner forehand cross-court winner on the first point of the following game and went on to break for the fifth time in the match to take a two-sets-to-love lead.
Bautista Agut was looking increasingly down-in-the-mouth. En route to dropping serve in the second game of the third set he appeared to let out a loud sigh of "adios".
It was not long before Murray was saying his goodbyes. The Scot went 4-0 up, suffered another blip when two double faults enabled Bautista Agut to break back for 4-1, but broke again at 5-2 to complete his victory.
The only time when a smile broke out on the Spaniard's face was when he congratulated Murray at the end, having slipped and hit a forehand beyond the baseline on the fourth match point.
Murray beat Anderson, his next opponent, for the loss of only four games when they met in the first round of the Australian Open four years ago, but the current world No 18 won their only other meeting at the Montreal Masters in 2011.
"He's a tough opponent," Murray said. "I think he's playing the best tennis of his career so far. I think he's up at his highest ranking. He's made some improvements this year. He's a big guy with a big game so I'll need to be sharp and I'll have to return well."
Murray's mother, Judy, was absent for some of the match as she watched her other son, Jamie, win his doubles match.
"None of my family came to watch me. My brother's the priority," Andy joked afterwards. "He's the No 1 son. He's always had the preference. That's why I've been so competitive since I've been a kid.
"But it's good that we both won."