James Lawton: Victory, without leaving comfort zone

Scot saunters through to the fourth round as Serbian Troicki is barely able to make a contest of it
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The Independent Online

If Andrew Murray gets any more at home on the Centre Court he may consider appointing a butler.

It is certainly true his latest victim, Viktor Troicki, aged 23 and ranked 31st in the world, must have felt like tip-toeing out through the servants' quarters long before the completion of this latest evidence that the man from Dunblane is now claiming his place in the big time as a matter of right rather than privilege.

The Serbian had twice before felt the sting of Murray's court craft – he won only one game when they collided in Miami – but this, surely, was something different.

It wasn't some hard-edged rush to victory against an overmatched opponent. It was another clinical essay, another example of how Murray is building towards the second great challenge of his career.

He lost the first one in the company of Roger Federer in Flushing Meadows last year because he was still a little too young, a little emotionally raw, to take a master fighting so hard to redeem his loss of the Wimbledon tennis crown. Now the evidence is gathering that if Federer prevails again at this tournament in the absence of last year's conqueror Rafael Nadal, it will not be any shortfall in Murray's development as a fully elected member of the tennis elite.

It will be a superb example of resilience and talent of the highest quality. However, for anyone tracing form-lines from one half of the draw to the other, and seeing the progress of Federer and Murray to tomorrow's fourth round as relevant mostly for what it has said about their chances of beating each other, there has to be acceptance that the latter is making extraordinary progress by any standards. He hasn't surged quite so precociously as the likes of John McEnroe or Bjorn Borg, he hasn't raced into the prodigy category, but there is something inevitable and silky about the steps he has made through this tournament.

Troicki had no reason to believe in his chances last night but, despite the Miami result, he might have felt that his recent improvement – and a victory over Andy Roddick – would have brought him a little closer to some kind of professional parity. Yet his big serve was rendered a mis- guided missile by the sheer weight of Murray's game, so dominant at one point that the man who trades on power found himself serving successive double-faults.

That isn't defeat for a banger like Troicki. It is professional and emotional breakdown. If Federer deigned to look – last Friday, after dropping a set to Philipp Kohlschreiber, a player bracketed closely with Troicki in the rankings, he sniffed that it was entirely premature to talk of a Federer-Murray final – he might have some reason to revise his view that Murray may still be short of the right level of gravitas for the big occasion.

We will have the true verdict on that only when Murray faces Federer in another Grand Slam final, but if we are scoring points in the meantime, it has to be said that the Scot is having the more seamless campaign.

While Federer was somewhat skittish after the inconvenience heaped upon him by Kohlschreiber, Murray was so relaxed after his thrashing of Latvian Ernests Gulbis that he chatted amiably about his new status as a pen friend of Her Majesty the Queen. Federer, for his part, was unusually stiff, almost to the point of an occasional snarl.

It needs to be remembered, of course, that even against Kohlschreiber, who on that day happened to look twice the player Troicki appeared to be, Federer did produce, once again, some of the tennis of the gods. However, he did lapse into a bout of introspection not ideally suited to Centre Court action, and was duly swept out of a tie-break.

Last night Murray briefly had his own Kohlschreiber experience at love-30 and 2-2 in the third set. He resolved with a burst of aces, a prelude to a drop shot in the sixth game that came straight from Federer's own most exquisite portfolio.

No one is saying Murray has Wimbledon wrapped up. But, heaven knows, he is making a rather elegant parcel. Federer really should take a peek at his mail.