KEVIN Anderson got one thing right over the weekend – he did not stand a chance against Andy Murray.
The world No 3 demolished the big-serving South African yesterday to win his fourth Aegon Championship and set himself up perfectly for Wimbledon.
To be fair to Anderson, he had had a cracking week. He marched to the final having dropped his serve just once all week, he had served 96 aces going into yesterday’s match and he had beaten the French Open champion, Stan Wawrinka, along the way.
He was playing better than ever. But, as he pondered the possibility of playing the Scot on grass in front of a home crowd, he knew he was in for a rough afternoon. Sure enough, he was dismissed 6-3, 6-4 in a swift and decisive 63 minutes. Poor Anderson, it was his seventh consecutive loss in a final.
But no-one was too bothered about Anderson. The crowd had come to see only one man, and for all that they gave the South African a polite cheer, they were only pleased to see him because he was there to play Murray. In Britain, especially at this time of year, there is only one player on the planet – and he comes from Dunblane.
Murray was working a double shift yesterday. He began on the early beat, finishing off his rain-delayed semi-final with Viktor Troicki. At 11am he was booted and spurred and going through his warm-up on the centre court while Troicki, who had injured his shoulder in a nasty tumble the day before, looked nervously at his team by the side of the court. When Murray ran away with nine of the first ten points to win the first set, the Serb appeared to be ready to call it a day.
He stuck to his task, though, and kept Murray scampering around for more than an hour before the Scot secured his place in the final with a 6-3, 7-6 win. Once upon a time, such a workout would have been good preparation for the final but now, at the grand old age of 28, Murray needed to rest up and recover before he faced Anderson.
“Maybe when I was like 21 or something, I could warm up and cool down, warm up and, you know, play, do that three, four times a day and feel okay,” Murray said.
“Now it’s not quite as easy as it used to be, unfortunately. I spent a decent amount of time with my physio between the matches. He did a really good job.”
That he did, because when Murray took to the court against Anderson, he was flying from the very start. The man who had served 34 aces to beat Gilles Simon in the semi-final was limited to just ten aces yesterday. Murray managed to get a racket string on many of the firecrackers being thrown at him but he also had Anderson guessing – where should he serve next to try to get a free point? Answer came there none.
Murray was ruthless, he was focused and, on the rare occasion that a rally should break out, he was finding winners and angles that left his huge rival flat-footed and flapping his racket at thin air. He broke Anderson in each set, something that no-one else had managed to do all week.
“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. So, thankfully when the chances came, I managed to come up with some kind of instinctive shots and guess the right way on a couple of shots and managed to get the breaks.
“I felt like once I got into the rallies I was doing really well, but it was obviously tough to do that some of the times. He served an extremely high percentage of first serves and was serving big. But it was a good performance.”
Since he faced Gilles Muller in the quarter-finals on Friday, Murray has been playing in a different gear. Muller took the first set that day and the Scot had to find a solution to the aggressive game plan he was facing. He did that in the second set tie-break, raising every aspect of his game and from there, he has never looked back.
Yesterday’s performance was just an extension of that – he has played himself into top form and now his confidence is sky- high as he approaches Wimbledon.
“I did carry that form through for the rest of the tournament,” he said. “I don’t know exactly why that was, but sometimes when you are in those tricky situations, maybe in a losing position, you come back and it can sort of give you a bit of extra confidence for the week. That match against Muller was very important.”
After a well-earned day off, Murray will begin the final countdown to Wimbledon. There are sponsor appearances to fit in, a favour for Tim Henman’s foundation with an exhibition event at the Hurlingham Club, and then as much practice as his physio and the weather will allow. Winning the Queen’s title means nothing in terms of his Wimbledon chances – but it does not hurt his preparations either.
“There are no guarantees that winning here gives you a Wimbledon title,” Murray said.
“I need to go out there and earn it. I need to train well the next five, six days, prepare as well as I can. It’s great preparation. It’s a great start to my preparation on the grass. It gives me that little bit of confidence going in there. Yeah, it’s been a really good start.”