Murray's variety show has Gulbis seeing stars
Scot's mixture of shots helps him crush Latvian and keep pace with Federer
Andy Murray and Roger Federer are seeded to meet in the final here on Sunday week and the Scot gave notice yesterday that he intends to reach his target with every bit as much panache as the Swiss. Twenty-four hours after Federer swept into the third round with the most emphatic of wins over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Murray followed him with a crushing 6-2, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Ernests Gulbis. At an hour and 28 minutes his match was a minute shorter than Federer's.
Murray was made to work hard by Robert Kendrick in the first round, but this time he never let his opponent into the match. Murray looked noticeably more relaxed and quickly found the form that has taken him to No 3 in the world rankings and given hope that he can become the first Briton to win here for 73 years.
The 22-year-old Scot made only five unforced errors, served superbly, hitting 11 aces and finding the target with 73 per cent of his first serves, and outclassed Gulbis with the sheer variety of his game. His sliced backhand in particular was a wonderfully destructive weapon.
"I thought I played well," Murray said afterwards with classic under-statement. "I served really well for the whole match. Apart from the very first game, where he had a couple of chances on my serve, I didn't give him another break point. I used my variety well and it was much, much better than the first match."
If the crowd had been subdued when he beat Kendrick there was more vocal support this time, which was no surprise, given the quality of Murray's play. "At the big stages of the second set the crowd got right behind me," he said. "When I had break points they got noisier. When I needed the support it was always there."
Murray now plays the No 30 seed, Viktor Troicki, who completed a five-set victory over Daniel Gimeno-Traver in near darkness at 9.21pm last night. The 23-year-old Serb trailed 4-1 in the final set but recovered to win 6-7, 6-0, 1-6, 6-3, 7-5. Murray has beaten Troicki in their only two previous meetings and lost just one game in their most recent encounter in Miami three months ago.
It might be tempting fate to suggest that the draw has started to open up for Murray, but Juan Martin del Potro, the world No 5, who replaced Rafael Nadal in Murray's half, went out of the tournament when he lost to Lleyton Hewitt. The three other top 10 players in Murray's section, Andy Roddick, Gilles Simon and Fernando Gonzalez, all won.
Gulbis was considered an outstanding prospect 12 months ago, but he has not won two matches in a row this year and has slipped to No 74 in the world rankings. Nevertheless, the 20-year-old Latvian remains a threat with his big-hitting game. Last year he was the only player other than Federer to take a set off Nadal here.
On this occasion Gulbis served well but made too many errors. In particular, his shot selection was poor, a fatal weakness when playing someone as tactically astute as Murray. Gulbis resorted to drop shots much too frequently. Against a player with Murray's pace they have to be hit with precision and disguise, but the Latvian was clumsy and predictable. Time after time Murray reached the ball with comparative ease and had time to put away his response.
The first game, in which Gulbis held serve, was a perfect demonstration of his all-or-nothing style, with all eight points the result of his winners or errors. Four unreturned serves and a big forehand winner won him the game, but he also served a double-fault, put a forehand in the net and hit a backhand long.
Murray, in contrast, did not make a single unforced error as he took the first set in just 25 minutes. The only time the Scot was in any sort of trouble was in his opening service game, when he fought back from 15-40 down with a flurry of big serves.
He broke in the fifth game and again in the seventh, the latter featuring two points that typified the variety in his game. The first was won with one of the shots of the match, a superb running forehand cross-court winner, while the second featured a Murray speciality, a sliced backhand lob, which left Gulbis utterly bewildered.
When Murray served a double-fault in the second game of the second set it ended a sequence of 19 winning points on his serve. Gulbis, nevertheless, started finding his range and the only break of the set came when he served at 5-5. Murray served out for the set with his ninth ace.
Gulbis saved a break point in the opening game of the third set with an ace, but was broken two games later. At 15-40 Murray's fine return of serve set the Scot up for a splendid backhand passing shot winner. Gulbis hung on to make the set competitive, but when he served at 5-3 Murray was once again too good for him. A volley error after the Scot's fiercely driven cross-court forehand set up match point. Murray's next return of serve left Gulbis out of position and he cracked a forehand cross-court winner to bring the evening to a perfect conclusion.
"If he plays like that I think that he's one of the favourites for the tournament," Gulbis said afterwards. "Andy played an unbelievable match today."
The Latvian admitted that he had found the occasion intimidating. "When I went on the Centre Court I was a little bit scared when I saw the atmosphere there because it's something really special," he said. "I had a few butterflies in my stomach."
Murray revealed that after one of his practice sessions here an All England Club official handed him a letter from the Queen. "Well done for winning at Queen's and good luck here was the gist of it," Murray said. "It's surprising. I mean, you don't get that every day."
Not every day, perhaps, but if Murray keeps on playing like this there might be another on its way in a fortnight's time.
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