Andy learns to live in exalted company

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The Independent Online

There was, inevitably, disappointment for Murray, his advisers and his growing band of admirers that the tall teenager's legs could not carry him through a fifth set at the US Open on Friday evening and into the third round. However, in reducing an experienced and wily opponent like Arnaud Clement to the very brink of despair, the Scot unveiled once more that armoury of natural, flowing skills possessed by few in the sport.

Roger Federer has those skills. So does Marat Safin, if not the mindset to accompany them, and Murray is rapidly carving himself a place in the very finest company. He possesses what John McEnroe calls "natural feel" for the game, a quality which cannot be taught, and his range of shot selection is as uncanny as it is impressive.

Like Safin, but unlike Federer, Murray can also be bloody-minded. Cantankerous may not be the right word for the young man, but he certainly knows how to stick up for himself and projects a belief in his own ability which the old alley cat Jimmy Connors would recognise.

In brief, keep on going for it, Andy. The body will, in its own good time, catch up with the brain, and then we will have a tennis player arguably better than Tim Henman at his peak, as good as anyone Britain has produced since Fred Perry in his pomp. The wonderful thing is that Murray firmly believes this, too, so that is half the battle.

Despite that aching shoulder, he hammered 26 aces past Clement, lobbed the Frenchman until he must have felt like gibbering, and changed the pace and angle of his shots with grace aforethought. How good will Murray be when he manages to land his first serve on target regularly, when more hours in action against the biggest in the sport hone his output to assure minimum wastage of effort?

Murray is still growing physically as well as mentally so, despite all those British crossed fingers, it was to be expected that the demands of five matches in 10 days in the humid heat of Flushing Meadows would exact the sort of toll which halted him in that fifth set on Friday evening as if he had run into a brick wall, which metaphorically he had.

Since Murray thrust himself under the noses of the sporting public at the beginning of June by parlaying a wild card at Queen's Club into a place in the last 16 he has put behind him a junior career in which he was ranked the world No 2 and is still, in fact, the reigning Under-18 champion at the US Open for a few more days. With sense, Murray has made these statistics stepping stones to something more important, and since first venturing on to the grass of Queen's he has played 33 matches in the big boys' leagues, winning 25 and losing just eight.

He has appeared in two Grand Slams, four ATP tournaments and four of the lesser-level Challenger events, of which he won two. The ranking has climbed in tune with the victories, and a win over Clement would have pushed him inside the world's top 100. That mark will be surpassed soon enough. McEnroe even predicts a place in the top 20 by this time next year.

That old chestnut about world and oyster comes to mind. From here on, it is essential that Andy Murray and his determined and talented mother, Judy, ally themselves with the best people in the coaching and fitness departments that their rapidly burgeoning assets can afford. Mark Petchey was sensible enough to take on the job of coach just for six months to help steer Murray forward.

That he has done excellently. Before too long the baton must be passed to the best in the business. As the accuracy and patience of his groundstrokes shows, Murray did a smart thing by taking himself off to live in Spain and learn tennis on clay, just like Safin. The next step needs to be the establishment of Team Murray, a group who can show him how to survive those fifth sets. And win them.