Murray ready for man with grass allergy

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The Independent Online

It is not the most helpful of conditions to bring to the All England Club. Viktor Troicki, Andy Murray's opponent here this afternoon, is allergic to grass. "I'm allergic to grass courts, not just at Wimbledon but at other tournaments as well," the Serb said. "There's something in the air that bothers me."

Given his past record, Troicki also appears to react badly to Scottish tennis players. The 23-year-old from Belgrade has played Murray twice before and not taken a set off him. When they met in the Miami Masters three months ago he won only one game.

"He just destroyed me in Miami," Troicki recalled. "For sure, he's the favourite. He's one of the favourites to win this tournament and all the crowd are behind him. It's going to be tough. I'll need to play my best."

Troicki, currently at a career-high No 31 in the world rankings, had never seen a grass court until he was 18. Although he is a former Wimbledon junior doubles finalist, his results as a senior are what you might expect from a man with a grass allergy.

On his only previous appearance at the All England Club 12 months ago he lost to Radek Stepanek in the second round. He won one match at Queen's Club last year and lost to Nicolas Kiefer in the first round at Halle a fortnight ago, winning only three games.

Nevertheless, the Serbian No 2 has enjoyed a decent year, recording victories over such luminaries as David Nalbandian, Tomas Berdych and Ivan Ljubicic, and had a good first week here. He beat the Argentine Brian Dabul in straight sets in the first round and on Thursday came back from 4-1 down in the final set to knock out Spain's Daniel Gimeno-Traver. Murray watched the latter stages of the match from the players' balcony.

Troicki has never played on Centre Court before and has been inside it only once, when he watched Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in the 2004 final. For Murray, in contrast, the arena is becoming almost as familiar as Dunblane Sports Club, where he learnt the game after picking up a racket for the first time at the age of three.

It is a good job the Scot is not superstitious as this will be his 13th match in succession on Centre Court. The last time he played anywhere else at the All England Club was in 2005, when, as the world No 312, he beat Stepanek, then world No 13, in straight sets on Court One.

In his four appearances here Murray has never failed to reach the third round. His form in beating Ernests Gulbis on Thursday evening suggested that he can go much further. If the unforced error count – just five in the whole match and none in the first and third sets – was the world No 3's most impressive statistic, his serving figures will have given him just as much pleasure, with 73 per cent of his first serves finding their target.

Murray puts his improved serve down to his better all-round physical condition. "I'm a lot more balanced throughout the whole motion," he said. "Before, my legs were stronger than my upper body and I would collapse a little bit. When you do that you hit a lot of serves long and it's not as good.

"Now I'm staying taller for longer and it's less effort to hit a hard serve now than it used to be.

"Before, I used to try to serve huge on a lot of the points, and try and get 130-140mph. Now I'm getting a higher percentage in and hitting the lines with a lot less effort."

He added: "I've always practised my serve a lot. Maybe I spend a little bit more time on it than before, but it's always been a very important part of my game.

"If you can take care of your own service game it puts an awful lot of pressure on your opponent and I have done that since I first came on the tour. I've tried to improve it, but the physical work that I have done has made a big difference."