Andy Murray and Viktor Troicki have history, not much of it light reading.
When the Scot survived a searching three-set examination by one of the big serving beasts of tennis, Gilles Müller, at Queen’s on Friday, he probably imagined he would be meeting another ace merchant, John Isner, in Saturday’ssemi-final but instead he gets the Serb, who upset the beanpole American in quick time on Friday evening – and seriously upset Murray when he failed to provide a blood sample at Monte Carlo two years ago.
After Troicki was banned for 18 months – reduced to a year on appeal – Murray described his conduct as “unprofessional”, a judgment he was happy to stand by on Friday, and even expand on.
“I think players realise that it’s extremely serious business, drug testing,” Murray said after beating Müller 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, then watching some of his upcoming opponent’s 7-6, 6-3 win over Isner in just 62 minutes.
“I know that I’m getting tested a lot more than I was in the past. If you want the public to take your sport seriously, you need to have strong anti-doping protocols and make sure that all of the athletes are getting tested as much as possible.
“I’m not saying that it’s perfect. I don’t think any of the sports are. You need more money, more investment in it if you want to have the best protocol possible. I’m pro testing as much as is required to make sure the sport remains as clean as possible.”
Asked did he stand by his original criticism of Troicki, he said: “Obviously it’s a difficult situation. I said at the time you have to be aware of what exactly the rules are. If you want to protect the image of your sport, you need to understand how serious the drug testing is and anti-doping is. I stand by what I said there. I’m sure he’s learned a lot from that.”
The case has been a sore point between Murray and Novak Djokovic, who defended his Serbian compatriot at the time and since. Now Murray plays Troicki for the second time in that period, having beaten him handily in Vienna last October.
After the earlier exits in the Aegon Championships of Rafael Nadal, the new French Open champion Stan Wawrinka and the Queen’s incumbent Grigor Dimitrov, insurrection was in the air. Müller – who had not beaten Murray in three previous matches and has fought back from injury two years ago under the stewardship of Murray’s close tennis friend, Jamie Delgado, to No48 in the world – rose admirably to the challenge.
Having racked up 56 aces on the way to the quarter-finals, Müller powered down on his serve in search of accuracy, and indeed Murray edged him 13-8 in free points in just under two hours on a packed Centre Court, the club’s elegant patrons and guests bathing in the warm sun while watching a spot of tennis between deals and Pimm’s.
For the combatants, it was not such a picnic. While the man from Luxembourg red-lined near the edge of his abilities, it was a struggle for Murray until he found another gear in the tie-break and steadily gained the ascendancy in the closing set.
“I wasn’t getting many chances on his serve,” Murray said later. “I started to read it better at the end of the tie-break, and that’s when the match changed.”
He was happier talking about José Mourinho, a regular here this week, and who chatted with him afterwards.
“I haven’t spoken to him long enough,” Murray said, “but I’d like to. When I was doing my rehab at Chelsea, they were in the middle of the season and getting ready for training sessions, so didn’t really have enough time. I’d love to chat to him about what it is that makes him great.”
If Murray beats Troicki and then the winner of the semi-final between Gilles Simon and Kevin Anderson, a fourth Queen’s title would put him alongside John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt in the Open era.
Anderson took an hour and 25 minutes to beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-6, 7-5, and has the confidence of having already put Wawrinka out of the tournament, his fourth straight win over the Swiss. The 6ft 8in South African added 18 aces to 44 already struck for the week.
From the lush fields of Queen’s to the grass of Halle in Germany, the game’s big-serving beasts have been devouring opponents with tigerish intensity ahead of Wimbledon, which starts on Monday week.
In Halle on Friday, Ivo Karlovic added to the collective blizzard of unhittable serves when he fired a record 45 free-pointers past poor Tomas Berdych in three sets to reach the semi-finals of the Gerry Weber tournament.
If Roger Federer can stop the 36-year-old Croatian – one of only three players, alongside Federer himself and Stan Wawrinka, to beat Novak Djokovic this year – he will likely sleep well at the end of it. Federer beat Florian Mayer 6-0, 7-6, and was one of the few members of the game’s elite to escape a proper mauling. Karlovic’s fusillade in winning 7-5, 6-7, 6-3 against the tournament’s third seed brought his tally of aces for the week to 94.
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