Andy Murray imperious against Mikhail Youzhny as US Open defence beckons
• Briton beats Russian 6-2, 6-3 in Western and Southern Open
• 'I maybe could have volleyed a bit better,' concedes Scot
Andy Murray celebrates his victory over Mikhail Youzhny of Russia at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. Photograph: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Kevin Mitchell in Cincinnati
When Andy Murray is in the mood – as he was in dismissing the uneven challenge of Mikhail Youzhny in the second round of the Western and Southern Open on a crisp and lovely Wednesday in Cincinnati – he encourages dreaming.
It is not fanciful to see this version of the world No2 successfully defending his US Open title when the Tour decamps to Flushing Meadows next week. On his way to closing out his fourth win over the Russian, 6-2, 6-3, Murray hit as pleasing a rhythm as he did during his Wimbledon progress to the title there. The ball left his racket with certainty, his balance and power were in lovely synchronicity and, although Youzhny has feared skills (notably a killer drop shot), he was competitive only in minor skirmishes; across the battlefield, he was slaughtered.
Youzhny had reason to believe he might do well, too. He beat Ernests Gulbis 7-5, 6-3 in the first round on Tuesday and there were moments against Murray when he looked every inch the world No 8 he once was. And 31 is not ancient in the modern game. When he won his ninth career ATP World Tour title at Gstaad last month, he became one of 13 players of 30 or older to win a title this year.
Murray, however, is some way removed from Robin Haase, whom Youzhny beat in Gstaad. And he is still a bigger threat than Gulbis – who caught him cold in Montreal last week. On Wednesday, Youzhny was unfortunate to run into a top-gear Murray.
"I was trying to get through this one safely," he said, "with the US Open so close. When I got a chance on his second serve, I was aggressive. Here and at the US Open, the courts allow you to take the ball early, especially on second serve. I maybe could have volleyed a little bit better but I will work on that."
A key to his game – and he showcased it to perfection on Wednesday – has been his defence, but sometimes his recovery shots defy all logic, as he shifts direction and speed in a twinkling to hunt down the unreachable, turning his replies into the unbelievable. He did that a few times here, extending his muscled right arm, often way behind the baseline or off the court on either side and flicking through the ball on the backhand at full stretch. Even from such unpromising positions, he still managed to put up teasing defensive lobs, too risky to take on the volley, yet landing delicately just inside the baseline, and they bamboozled Youzhny.
"Since I first came on the tour, I had good anticipation, chasing a lot of balls down, and I managed to do that today," Murray said. "The hard thing is not getting to the ball, it is getting into the right position to do something with it."
Any concerns about his fitness – and he did look a tad underdone at the Rogers Cup, going out tamely to Gulbis at the first time of asking – should be shelved. Murray was sharp and loose, playing well within himself. Although he has not played much since winning Wimbledon, he has ticked over nicely in training and there have been no problems with the back injury that kept him out of the French Open. "I'm in good shape," he said, paying homage to the six-week winter training block in Miami that brings him to a pre-season peak and keeps him there, injuries notwithstanding.
Wherever he goes now, Murray is asked to reflect on his Wimbledon triumph and was happy to do so again. "One thing I would like to have done [after winning Wimbledon] is spend more time with my close ones. It was such a big deal in our country but two weeks after it I went back to do normal stuff. All of my career, everything has happened quite slowly for me. I haven't made massive leaps, it's all been gradual. I hope I can keep working hard and achieve as much as I can."
So, the quiet assassin moves on through a tournament he has won twice. He is looking good.http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2013/aug/14/andy-murray-mikhail-youzhny