Critics wowed by Murray the power player

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Andy Murray was out karting here yesterday with his girlfriend, Kim Sears, but the break from business did not last long. Less than 24 hours after his defeat to Rafael Nadal in an epic fourth-round match in the Australian Open on Monday, Murray was on a plane and promising to go straight to the gym when he gets home later today.

The British No 1's performance in taking Nadal to five sets with an enthralling display of inventive tennis was the talk of Melbourne Park yesterday morning. The result could have been very different if Nadal had not saved all 10 break points against him in the last two sets.

The consensus was that the Spaniard's sheer strength had been decisive. There are not many players who can match Nadal physically, though Murray believes that if he can build on the new training regime he began over the winter break he will do so within a year.

Britain's Davis Cup captain, John Lloyd, who was watching in the Rod Laver Arena, believes that Murray may have to wait a little longer to reach the height of his physical powers but is impressed by the progress he has made since beginning work late last year with Mark Grabow, a fitness guru.

"I thought Nadal might be a little too strong for him physically at this stage, but I was totally wrong," Lloyd said yesterday. "He lost but he was in good shape. Yet we're still two years away from him being at his physical peak. When that happens he's going to be a scary prospect."

Murray, who may pull out of a tournament in Zagreb, Croatia, next week after suffering a large blister on his foot, refused to make an issue out of a problem he had with his side after stretching for a ball on his forehand in the second set. "I'm glad that I went out there and played for three hours and 50 minutes with one of the fittest guys," he said. "It didn't come down to a physical thing."

Roger Federer was among those who thought Nadal's strength was decisive. "Rafa is incredibly tough," the world No 1 said. "He was so strong in the end. He deserved to win, but Murray was really close. He did well. I don't know what happened with his rib. It looked like he was totally in control and all of a sudden he just gave it away, though he then came back again."

Lloyd, who after Murray's defeat is still the last British player to have reached the quarter-finals here (in 1985), was thrilled by the sheer imagination of the Scot's play. "Nadal couldn't feed off the type of shots that most players give to him," he said. "Even though they are great strikers of the ball, many of them are one- dimensional. I don't believe for one minute that Nadal knew where the next shot was coming from.

"I don't think players will become used to handling him. He can change his shot a split second before and he can alter the tempo. There are even more things that will come out when the physical side gets even better. When he fills out he perhaps won't need to take quite as many risks."

Lloyd compared Murray to a young John McEnroe. "It's almost like a lazy style Andy has. He looks like he isn't hitting the ball. He leans into it and caresses it back deep, then all of a sudden leans into it and cracks it.

"McEnroe was one of the great inventors of all time. I saw him when he was 17 on a clay court in South Orange and he was already doing different stuff that made you go 'wow', stuff that didn't come out of a text book. All invention. [Ilie] Nastase too. Something special. In my day there were more players who had that type of racket work. You've got to have some special hand-eye to do what he can do. You can't teach a 10-year-old to play like McEnroe or Murray. It's a gift that doesn't come along very often."

Lloyd, who thinks Wimbledon is the Grand Slam tournament Murray is best placed to win, expects him to reach the world's top 10 by the end of the year.

"He already has the reputation of being a bloody difficult player to beat. Now, after the Nadal match, there will be a different respect and the lesser players will have a fear factor. Eight out of 10 players walk on court against Federer believing they can't beat him. Among the lesser players it will get like that for Andy."

Murray's performance drew praise from all corners. Philippe Bouin, the highly respected tennis correspondent of the French sports daily newspaper L'Equipe, wrote: "Through his tactics in the first set and a half, through the power which most observers did not believe he possessed (and which he confessed afterwards was a surprise even to himself), through his determination right until the end of a match ultimately decided by Nadal's greater physical strength, Murray showed that he is the most accomplished of those players aspiring to break into the top 10. He should achieve that goal very quickly."

l Alex Bogdanovic, the British No 3, has parted company with his coach, Mike Raphael. He is currently working with Peter Lundgren, who joined the Lawn Tennis Association's coaching team last year.