Is it dangerous to go out on the grass courts of Wimbledon? It is if you are playing Andy Murray. The unfortunate Tommy Robredo ran into a 6ft 4in threshing machine yesterday. After the punishment he absorbed on Friday, his bruised psyche could take a while to recover.
This was one of those performances that make you gawp. Tennis balls are notoriously unruly creatures, even in the hands of the best, yet Murray was directing them like Martin Scorsese. All the way through his 6?2, 6?4, 7?5 victory, there was barely a dud stroke to be seen. "I struck the ball very well from the start of the match," Murray said afterwards. "I went for it and hit a lot of winners. I had served well in the first couple of matches, but today I hit it better from the back. I've been tested this week and come through it well."
You might have expected Murray to feel a twinge of foreboding when the clouds gathered and the roof came over. The last time he played inside the giant Faberge egg that is a closed Centre Court, he was filleted by Roger Federer and his knifelike slice. Yet there are benefits to playing on the world's only indoor grass court.
For one thing, it is handy to have game time under the roof, given that there is no way to simulate these unique conditions in practice. For another, the absence of any wind or sun favours the player with the bigger game. You can take a hefty swing at the ball without fearing that a sudden zephyr will drift it onto the frame of your racket. Robredo, the world No?29, may bring a rugged resourcefulness to his tennis, but he does not have the ammunition to overpower Murray in a slugging contest.
And that would have been the only realistic way to win. Nobody but Federer can outplot and outmanoeuvre him these days. The first few points set the tone, producing lengthy rallies in which Murray seemed to be working at around three-quarter intensity, like a boxer sparring with the heavy bag. Yet the ball was fizzing off his racket so venomously that Robredo was having to sprint and hustle just to stay in the point. Above all, Murray's signature stroke - the backhand down the line - was in the sweetest groove imaginable. Since Ivan Lendl's arrival as his coach, he has worked assiduously to upgrade his forehand from a rallying shot to a detonator. Yet, as is often the case when one wing improves, he seemed to lose the slightest of edges on the other. Perhaps it was a lack of attention, but more likely something related to his chronic back trouble, which flares up more on the backhand side. Since he took the smart ploy of skipping the French Open to rest his sciatica, Murray has looked much fresher, both physically and psychologically.
As soon as he got back on the court at Queen's, you could see all the old fluidity and whip return to that double-hander, and yesterday he must have hit a dozen scorching winners down the line. In the modern game, it is the king of shots, the one that opens up the court more than any other. And if we do see the top two seeds meet in the final on Sunday week, it will be the one that Novak Djokovic fears. Are we getting ahead of ourselves? Naturally enough, Murray would say so.
Asked whether he had felt less pressure this week as a result of being a grand slam winner, he replied: "From what I've heard, people are putting even more pressure on me because of the nature of the draw. It would be easier if we just take one match at a time. There are a lot of tough players left, and some young guys trying to make a name for themselves." Still, you would not have to be a British jingoist to say that Murray has played the best tennis of Wimbledon's first week. He clearly has an eye on Jerzy Janowicz, the giant Pole who took out Nicolas Almagro yesterday. But it will take quite some performance to stop him if he keeps playing like this.