British boys fall short but future looks bright for Murray

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The Independent Online

Tim Henman's quest for Wimbledon glory may have ended prematurely for yet another year, but at least he was not alone in reaching the latter stages of the fortnight. Yesterday saw the British pair of Andrew Murray and Tom Rushby go one step further than their hero, losing in the semi-finals of the boys' doubles.

Defeat is a familiar ritual for British tennis, but the unseeded duo should take comfort from their gutsy performance against the top seeds from Romania, Florin Mergea and Horia Tecau. Both players will have learned a great deal from their three rounds, and one hopes they will come back from this 6-4 7-5 defeat stronger next year.

The boys' doubles has produced its fair share of grass-court greats. A young lad called Patrick Cash won the competition 21 years ago, while his compatriot Todd Woodbridge lifted the trophy in 1987 and 1988. Woodbridge, of course, went on to become the most successful doubles player of all time, winning his eighth Wimbledon yesterday.

Although the tournament does matter, reaching a semi-final does not guarantee later success. Britain has produced finalists before, most recently in 2000 when Andrew Banks and Ben Riby fell at the last hurdle. However, neither of those players has gone on to achieve much in the game since then. Nor, for that matter, has either of the last Britons to lift the trophy. Martin Lee is struggling on the seniors' tour, while James Trotman decided to turn his attention to coaching, and is the man behind Anne Keothavong's recent improvement.

But now for some positives. Of the two home-grown players on show yesterday, Murray was the one who really stood out. He is still only 16, and at the end of last year was ranked 255 in the world junior rankings. Now, propelled by hugely impressive showings in both singles and doubles, the six-footer from Dunblane has moved up to 11th in the world inside six months, and is Britain's best. One can certainly see why he had won six successive doubles championships before Wimbledon. He has a powerful serve, good movement and, most tellingly of all, an aggressive streak too often lacking in British tennis players.

Murray's outburst following a dubious over-rule by the umpire early in the first set showed that he is hungry to succeed. He was not rude, and did not lose his focus thereafter, but was simply determined not to give the match away cheaply. Perhaps he is picking up some fiery Spanish characteristics from the Emilio Sanchez academy in Barcelona where he is based.

"I want to be in the top 10 in the world, first in the juniors and then grown-ups," the confident Scot said. "I love the sport, and I believe that there is no reason why I can't compete with the best."

His temperament and upbringing on the clay (a surface traditionally alien to British tastes and skills) certainly bode well for the future. "He has all the right tools to go a long way," confirmed his coach Leon Smith, "and a semi-final defeat is nothing to be ashamed of." That much is true. History is on Murray's side, too. It was 11 summers ago that an unknown pair called Jamie Delgado and Tim Henman crashed out in the second round of the same event, and we all know what happened to the boy from Oxfordshire.