ANDY Murray has always had natural talent, and over the past couple of years he has gradually added consistency to his game. But this year, he has an additional quality – less easy to define, but arguably just as important: authority.
It does not come to every player with talent, or even to every player who can compete at a consistently high standard. Yet it is a vital asset, which reinforces a player’s self-belief, and weakens the resolve of his opponents.
Roger Federer had it for long enough here, and it was enough for many of his opponents to be beaten before they took to the court. Rafael Nadal would have it still, were it not for the physical chinks in his armour. Novak Djokovic, the No 1 seed, has it in abundance. And so, now, has Murray.
At 26, he still regularly comes up against opponents who are older than him: Tommy Robredo, the man he beat 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 last night, is 31. But the Scot is a senior figure now, someone treated with respect, and also with deference.
Perhaps that is the real effect of winning that elusive Grand Slam title. Before he claimed the US Open last year, Murray was acknowledged throughout the tennis world as one of the top four players in the game, but everyone – himself included – was acutely aware of the difference between himself and the other three. They had won Grand Slam titles: he had only been in finals.
The pain of getting to the Wimbledon final last year, then the ecstasy of winning the Olympic title at the same venue a month later, has been credited as the catalyst. Triumph at Flushing Meadow came next, and this year he has reached the final of the only major he contested, the Australian.
Injuury ruled him out of the French, and it has been widely suggested that rest was a good thing for him. But last night, after that straight-sets win over Robredo, he insisted he would far rather have competed in Paris.
“I don’t think the way I’m playing has anything to do with that extra time,” he said. “I mean, normally by the time Wimbledon would come round, I felt pretty good coming into the tournament most years. I think it helped me at Queen’s, for sure. But, like I said, I’d much rather have been at the French Open than lying around for ten days doing nothing. I would have much rather been there than hitting on the grass.”
Murray won Queen’s, and his two previous victories here this week took his winning streak to 13. There was never even the slightest fear that he would fail to extend it to 14 against Robredo.
The Spaniard, seeded No 32, is without doubt an experienced and respected campaigner. But Murray barely let him into the match, keeping him running and conjuring up winners from all corners of the court.
After hours of intermittent rain, the two men eventually got on court around a quarter to six. It would have been earlier, but, after Laura Robson’s win over Mariana Duque-Marino, the organisers decided to open the Centre Court roof.
That was fine while the match between Jerzy Janowitz and Nicolas Almagro was going on, but by the time Robredo and Murray were due on court, the rain had returned. Eventually, the No 2 seed and his older opponent got their contest started a few minutes before 6pm.
Robredo began solidly enough by holding serve in the opening game, but after Murray had also held serve, the true pattern of the match emerged. When on top of a rally, the Scot invariably had Robredo exactly where he wanted him. When defending, he got virtually everything back, steadily turning the tables.
Robredo had a point to win that third game, but he failed to capitalise. A minute later Murray had the first break point of the contest, and made no mistake.
With that break in the bag, Murray upped the tempo of his play, apparently effortlessly, rattling through the next two games to go 4-1 ahead. Then, from nowhere, his concentration lapsed, and he was himself broken.
A few years ago, he could spend the best part of a set at that lower level, and at times that would be enough to allow his opponent back into the match. This time he rectified his fault in the very next game, breaking back to restore his three-game advantage. He made no mistake in the next game either, wrapping up the set in 34 minutes.
A fierce beginning to the second set saw Murray break again, and he held on to that lead all the way through.
Robredo served well at 3-5 down to stay in the set, and came within a point of breaking Murray in the next game. But that chance was swiftly snuffed out, and the Scot was two sets up, this one having taken a little longer at 45 minutes.
With nothing to lose, Robredo threw everything he had into the third set. Serving first, he knew that the more often he held serve, the greater a chance there was of a little bit of tightness creeping into Murray’s game.
But, having said that, whatever pressure Murray felt, he dealt with it impeccably.
The Scot did have to serve to stay in the set at 5-4 down, but he did so with ease. The pressure was on Robredo in the following game, and this time it told. Murray converted his first break point, then served out to complete a thoroughly satisfying – and encouraging – first week.
Murray has yet to find out who he will play in Monday’s fourth round. But on this form, whether his opponent is No 20 seed Mikhail Youzhny of Russia or the unseeded Serbian Viktor Troicki should not matter: the Scot will be a firm favourite to go through to the quarter-finals – although doing so in straight sets again may prove to be a tall order.
“Youzhny, I think I’ve only played him once on the tour maybe,” he said. “But he’s a very good grass-court player. He was in the final in Halle. Had a very tight match with Roger [Federer] there.
“I’m pretty sure he’s been in the quarters here. He’s been in the second week numerous times. He likes the courts. He’s a very talented guy.
“Troicki, I’ve had some good matches with him in the past. I played well against him. I know his game well.
“I actually played him here, I think, a few years ago, as well. But he started to play a lot better. He didn’t play so well last year, but he’s having a much better year this year. He changed coaches.
“He’s a good player. He’s extremely quick around the court.”
However, as Robredo found yesterday evening, being quick around the courts only gives you a chance of staying in the match. And not a very good one with Murray in this sort of form, and enjoying his new position as an authority figure.