They say that grass courts are slower than they used to be and that a good serve is not the killer weapon that it once was. Try telling that to Mardy Fish, who won only five points on Andy Murray's serve here yesterday as the 22-year-old Scot fired himself into the semi-finals of the Aegon Championships with a barrage of aces and service winners.
Murray, who won 7-5, 6-3, may not have the sheer power of a Pete Sampras or a Boris Becker, but the world No 3 packs a fair punch with a serve increasingly notable for its variety and disguise. Fish won two points against serve only once, in the final game of the first set. Nevertheless, there is much more to Murray's game than his serve, as he showed by breaking Fish three times.
The American can be a Fish out of water on slower courts, but with a big serve and good volleys he has a game made for grass. Having held serve comfortably until 5-5, the world No 25 was broken for the first time when Murray hit a series of crashing returns and passing shots. Murray broke again to lead 4-3 in the second set with a fine backhand return of serve and rounded off his afternoon in appropriate fashion when he hit a backhand cross-court winner on his first match point two games later.
In his three matches so far this week Murray has been detained on court for just three hours and 18 minutes. With Wimbledon just nine days away, he is looking in superb shape.
"I served very well today," Murray said afterwards. "I changed the direction of my serve on the second serve very well. Even when I missed my first serve, I didn't feel like I was letting him [Fish] get into a rhythm on the return. The rest of my game was solid. I returned well towards the end of the first set. From then on, I played much better.
"He has got a big serve. He comes to net a lot and makes it tough for you."
In today's semi-finals Murray plays Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former world No 1 who is now No 90 in the world rankings and has never gone this far on grass before. Murray, who will be playing in the last four here for the first time, reached his only grass-court semi-final at Newport, Rhode Island, three years ago.
Ferrero is a former French Open champion who is at his best on clay and will offer a very different challenge to Fish. The Spaniard reached the semi-finals by beating Belgium's Steve Darcis 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 following victories over Sebastien Grosjean, Paul-Henri Mathieu and Xavier Malisse.
"Tomorrow's match will be pretty much opposite to the way that today went," Murray said. "There will be a lot more rallies. Ferrero has a very good return. He was hitting the ball well from the baseline today. The rest of my game will have to be on, not just the serve and the return."
Tim Henman lost in three finals here, but no Briton has won this event since it was relaunched as the Stella Artois Championships 30 years ago. The tournament was previously known as the British Grass Court Championships, with Bunny Austin the last home winner, in 1938.
It is one of the best guides to Wimbledon form: only seven of the winners in the last 30 years did not win at the All England Club at some stage of their careers. In four of the last seven years the champion has gone on to reach the Wimbledon final – Andy Roddick losing twice to Roger Federer, and Lleyton Hewitt and Rafael Nadal lifting the title in 2002 and 2008 respectively.
Today's other semi-final will see Andy Roddick play the winner of last night's final quarter-final between James Blake and Mikhail Youzhny. Roddick, who is the No 2 seed, beat Ivo Karlovic 7-6, 7-6.
*Maria Sharapova reached the semi-finals of the Aegon Classic at Edgbaston yesterday when she beat Yanina Wickmayer 6-1, 2-6, 6-3. The Russian will now play China's Na Li, who beat Stefanie Voegele in straight sets. India's Sania Mirza, who knocked out British No 1 Anne Keothavong on Wednesday, also moved into the last four with a 6-1, 7-6 win against 16th-seed Melinda Czink.