As Andy Murray and Sam Groth stood in the tunnel before their second-round match on day four of the Australian Open, the Australian who looks like he eats raw meat for breakfast turned to the Scot and confided, “I’ve never played on Rod Laver Arena, never even hit on it.”
The world No2, who has been a regular on the tournament’s main court for most of the past decade, smiled and replied, “That’s good.” An hour-and-a-half later, Murray had marmalised the world No67 with the biggest serve in the game so completely that he left the very clear impression he is in great shape to reach his fifth final here.
Whether or not Murray can win his first title will probably be in the hands of Novak Djokovic, but beating Groth 6-0, 6-4, 6-1 (at 3-0 in the second set, a triple-bagel was on the cards) has kept his spirits high going into the third round on Saturday against the talented young Portuguese Joao Sousa, who beat Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 in a match riddled with 97 unforced errors, 41 of them belonging to the winner.
Back on Rod Laver, Murray played a near-perfect game. His artfulness neutralised Groth’s attacking instincts, and the Melbourne-based player muttered after being lobbed for the sixth time in the first set, “I am so tight!”
Murray, whose rediscovered love of the lob entitles him to be labelled the game’s Lobster, said courtside, “It’s nice to play different game styles. Sam tries to come to net at every opportunity. It’s easy to get impatient. He didn’t start off serving so well.”
Indeed, they were 36 minutes into the struggle before Groth put one cleanly past Murray’s racket, 227kph wide of his forehand in the second game of the second set and he still couldn’t hold. He did break through in his next service game and briefly inconvenienced Murray with some power hitting, drawing level in the eighth game.
But Murray was outserving him, out-acing him, out-hitting him off the ground and out-thinking him all over the court in a truly masterful display of all-round high-grade tennis. He took the second set after an hour and three minutes when he forced Groth to push a stretched volley wide, and the Australian looked shattered.
The third was a virtual repeat of the first. Groth turned his right ankle at the start of Murray’s final service game but admirably chose to finish the fight. There was nothing he could do, though, about Murray’s 10th and final ace.
Murray spoke later about Groth’s compatriot, Lleyton Hewitt, who was due to play on the same court in the evening, against eighth seed David Ferrer.
“He was someone I loved watching growing up. His attitude towards the competition I loved. He fought – he fights – extremely hard, even to this day. This is his 20th Australian Open and he still has the same passion to win and compete as ever.
“I actually named one of my dogs after him. One of the things that I like about him is that he was an idol for me but then, when I came on the tour, he was always really good to me. So, away from the court, like practising with me, he always said ‘hello’, he was always very polite and respectful with me since I was a kid. You remember that as you get older and it’s a shame that he’s retiring. He deserves a great send off when he’s done here. He’s been amazing for tennis, for Australian tennis.”
This article was written by Kevin Mitchell at Melbourne Park, for theguardian.com on Thursday 21st January 2016 06.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010