Andy Murray may miss French Open to focus on Wimbledon


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The Independent Online

Andy Murray is back home awaiting a scan on his back following his exit from the Rome Masters, but for some leading characters life here carried on as normal. Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams, the world No 1s, motored past their opponents with as much mercy as a Rome taxi driver, while Rafael Nadal stayed on course to win the title for a seventh time despite being pummelled in the first set by Ernests Gulbis.

Following the scan today on his troublesome lower back, which forced his mid-match retirement on Wednesday, Murray will decide within the next few days whether he is fit for the French Open, which begins in nine days' time. Judy Murray, his mother, said he needs to be cautious. "I'm sure Wimbledon will be his priority," she told the BBC.

Murray said that playing on clay had aggravated the problem because it requires more rotation of the body when hitting shots. Britain's Davis Cup tie away to Croatia in September, in which Murray has said he will play, will be on clay, but Leon Smith, the captain, is not concerned about his fellow Scot's availability.

"I think the problem for Andy is the repetition, the effect of playing on clay for several weeks at a stretch," Smith said. "I don't think there will be any problem playing a one-off weekend on clay."

He added: "First and foremost my major concern is that Andy gets his body right. I'm pleased he stopped yesterday. That was the right thing to do."

Meanwhile Djokovic, having trounced Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-1, 6-4, offered sympathy. "It's a pity if he doesn't play in Paris because he's one of the top players and for sure it would be a loss for the tournament," he said.

Nadal, who will return to No 4 in the world rankings if he wins the title, beat Gulbis 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, but only after the Latvian had gone within one point of becoming the first player for six years to win a set 6-0 on clay against the Spaniard. Nadal has now lost the first set 6-1 on three occasions in his career but went on to win each time.

Gulbis, who beat Roger Federer here three years ago, is blessed with great talent but admits his appetite for hard work has not been all it could have been in the past. The big-hitting Latvian hit some ferocious winners, but Nadal fought back, despite being below his best.

"I was really pumped up at the start," Gulbis said. "I was the better player in the first set and I thought I was still the better player in the second and third sets, but he is a great champion. He did what he had to do to win."

Nadal said that Gulbis might have been the better player if such judgements were made according to who hit the ball hardest, but he considered the better player to be the one who "tries to find solutions against a very difficult opponent". He also criticised Gulbis for questioning too many line calls.

Juan Martin del Potro met the Pope this week and gave his fellow Argentinian one of the rackets he used when beating Federer in the 2009 US Open final. The world No 7 might have to ask for it back after losing 6-4, 7-6 to Benoît Paire.

Williams beat Dominika Cibulkova 6-0, 6-1. The world No 1 has won her last 21 matches, which equals her career-best sequences, set in 2002 and 2003. She is on course for a meeting in the final with Maria Sharapova, who beat Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1.

Britain's Jonny Marray and Dominic Inglot went out of the doubles, losing to Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna. Colin Fleming, Marray's regular partner, has recovered from a shin problem and will play with him in Dusseldorf next week. Meanwhile Heather Watson, who has not played since March because of glandular fever, will start her comeback at Roland Garros.