Andy Murray seized on a crucial psychological edge before dismantling Sam Groth, the holder of the world's fastest serve, as he swept into the Australian Open third round on Thursday. In the locker-room before the match, the wily Scot overheard Australia's Groth saying he was playing at Rod Laver Arena, with all the pressures of a big home crowd, for the first time.
The world number two jumped on Groth and cagily fashioned a 6-0, 6-4, 6-1 demolition job in one hour 31 minutes to set up a third-round encounter with Portugal's Joao Sousa.
"We were right next to each other in the locker room and someone asked him. He just said it was the first time he'd ever been out there," Murray recalled afterwards. "First time he had even practised on it today. That surprised me."
Murray, one of the smartest tacticians in the game, dismantled Groth's booming serve with a variety of precision lobs, ankle-high returns and unerring passing shots, aided by the Australian's volleying errors.
"I tend to enjoy playing against that game style, so I had a feeling today that maybe the match-up would be a good one for me," Murray said.
"But the same time, if the guy is serving 220 kilometres (137 miles) an hour and making a lot of them, it's difficult to break. He didn't start off the match serving so well which helped me and when he picked up his game in the second set it became much tougher."
263 kph serve
A significant match statistic was that Murray served more aces than 67th-ranked Groth 10-6, while breaking the Australian's powerful serve seven times. It was a clinical performance from the four-time Australian Open runner-up, who hit 35 winners and just 11 unforced errors. He repeatedly won points with judicious lobs over the net-rushing Groth, who won only 15 of a total of 46 points at the net.
Murray broke Groth's first three service games to take the opening set in 29 minutes, leaving the nonplussed Aussie shaking his head. It wasn't until his fifth service game that Groth held serve for the first time, to a roar from the home crowd, as the Australian raised his arms in mock triumph.
Groth, 28, got his first break point in Murray's seventh service game and broke back when the Scot's forehand was long. The Australian began to get his game together but Murray still grabbed his fifth service break to take a two sets to love lead when Groth's crouching volley was wide on break point.
Murray drilled down with two more service breaks in the third set to wrap up a convincing win, with Groth finishing in pain from an apparent twisted right ankle as he made a net approach in the final game. Groth is credited with the fastest recorded serve of 263 kilometres (163 miles) per hour, which he hammered at an ATP Challenger event in South Korea in May 2012.
Murray is expecting a different challenge from Sousa, who took him to four sets in the second round at last year's French Open, in the last 32 on Saturday.
"This is twice I played him here. He's almost the opposite to Groth really. Plays predominantly from the back of the court," he said. "If I play well, I've got a good chance. But he's the sort of player that if your level's not quite there, he'll make it very tough for you, as he did when I played him at the French Open."