Alix Ramsay: To the victor the spoils, and to Viktor a quick exit
THERE IS a swagger that some champions have, especially at the grand slam championships. Boris Becker had it (he still has it, to be fair); Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have it. And now, as he marches into the second week of the tournament, Andy Murray has it.
The 96 minutes it took him to dismiss Viktor Troicki, to crush the Serbian world No 31 and reduce him to a bit-part player on the sport's greatest stage, was the most impressive display of controlled aggression and power that Murray has ever presented on the Centre Court. On any court, come to that. And the longer it went on, the more Murray relaxed into his leading role: he is the favourite here and the star of the show – no one else is welcome on this particular patch of turf.
This week there has been a sense of history in the air. Can Murray possibly become Britain's first Wimbledon champion since Fred Perry? Can the 73-year drought really be about to end? Yesterday there was also the added bonus that the Scot could possibly become the first man to play under the brand new Centre Court roof and as he warmed up in the gloom with the thunder clouds hovering overhead, the court coverers were hovering like kestrels over road kill.
Never before has a Wimbledon crowd pleaded for rain as they craned their necks and counted the number of drops that gently leaked from on high. But it was never enough to call the roof into play and Murray was not on court long enough for the weather to close in. He was ruthless in his destruction of Troicki. If ever a marker was laid down to his nearest rivals, this was it. Murray is playing the best tennis of his life – match that Mr Federer.
As Murray pulled and dragged Troicki from pillar to post, he created acres of space for himself. As he steered the ball into the empty spaces, it was like the old song: is Vic there? Patently not – he was still scrambling his way from chasing shadows on the opposite side of the court.
The Serb has constructed his game around a decent serve and forehand that, on these green and lush courts, could best be described as a WMD – a weapon of moss destruction. But Murray simply looked at that and matched it. Call that a forehand? Try this. And unfortunately for Troicki, Murray's forehand gives absolutely no indication where or how it is going to strike. Regardless of whether he is welting it at full power, clumping it at medium pace or just patting it back, the shot looks exactly the same to the waiting victim.
Then there was the serve. Murray smacked down 17 aces and 31 unreturnable serves. And then there was the service return, especially when Troicki would aim his serve in the general direction of Murray's backhand. And then there was the backhand in general. And his movement. It was, as Tim Henman put it, a "complete performance".
After a handful of games, Murray began to change. He had hit a level of play that was streets ahead of his opponent. He was playing as if on automatic pilot, as if everything he touched would work and every shot he played would win. The players call it being in the zone; everyone who saw it yesterday called it bloody fantastic.
And as Murray began to relax, so the crowd relaxed with him. The Centre Court faithful are still learning how to enjoy tennis again after a decade of watching Tiger Tim. The best vantage point to see one of Henman's teatime struggles was usually from behind the settee. And with your hands over your eyes. With Murray, there is the freedom to kick back and enjoy.
When he banged down three successive aces in the second set, the oohs and the ahhs echoed around the court. When he followed that up with a double fault, everyone laughed. No sweat; no worries. So he missed the chance to hit four aces and win the game. He'll do it next time. It was never like that with Tim.
The first two sets whistled by in 56 minutes – this was quicker than a Steffi Graf or Martina Hingis rout when they were in their pomp. When he started to make inroads into Troicki's serve at the start of the third set, the world No 31 howled out something in either Anglo Saxon or Serbian but definitely in anguish. Whatever it was, it lost nothing in translation: Troicki was toast and he knew it.
Better still, in a house somewhere in Wimbledon, Roger Federer knew it, too.
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Tuesday 18 June 2013
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