Andy Murray's hopes of a second ATP Tour title vanished when he was beaten in the Legg Mason Classic final in Washington last night by 11th seed Arnaud Clement, of France.
The 19-year-old Scot, seeded eight, was twice a break up in the first set but ended up losing it in a tiebreak. Murray, who called for the trainer in the second set, then went off the boil, allowing Clement a double-break.
Clement is becoming a bit of an irritation for Murray, having overwhelmed him 6-0 in the fifth set of a marathon match at the US Open last year. Last night, the Frenchman went on to win 7-6, 6-2 to inflict Murray's first defeat under new coach Brad Gilbert.
Despite breaking in the opening game of the match, Murray never looked comfortable in the sapping 90-degree heat and was troubled by a blister on his right hand. His 28-year-old opponent, who had beaten Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin on his way to the final, started slowly but once he settled into a rhythm, Clement always looked the more likely to win.
Murray called the trainer out after going 2-0 down in the second set but refused to blame his defeat on the discomfort he was feeling.
"I never had a blister before and I don't like to play with tape on my hands," he said. "When the blisters burst, it was hard to hold my racket.
"It was quite difficult for me but it definitely wasn't the reason I lost. I played a very good player. He had a great tournament."
Murray rallied briefly at the end of the second set and had two break points when Clement served for the match at 5-2. But the Frenchman saved them both and clinched the championship on his first match point for the fourth title of his career but the first outside of his native country.
Despite the disappointment of losing the final, Murray had a successful first week with Gilbert, not dropping a set until meeting Clement and the American coach was upbeat about his new charge.
"Clement raised his game and Andy was a little bothered by the blisters, " said Gilbert. "I'm pleased overall but a little disappointed with [the final]. Hopefully it won't linger."
Clement mainly worked at keeping the ball in play until Murray erred and Murray did make repeated mistakes, finishing with 31 unforced errors to Clement's 20, often looking at his right hand after mis-hitting shots. " He missed too much," Clement said.
Clement did not drop a set all week at the hard-court warm-up for the US Open, the year's last Grand Slam tournament, which begins on 28 August. "It's one of my best weeks," said Clement. "I played the best match in the final, so it was perfect for me."
On the domestic front, Murray has made it clear that he hopes and expects to be consulted before a new Davis Cup captain is appointed. He indicated in Washington that he would like to be asked for his opinion before the imminent appointment of Jeremy Bates' successor.
"I might get a phone call this week," he said, "but so far I haven't spoken to anybody about who is going to be Davis Cup captain."
Murray believes that John Lloyd, who is the favourite to take over the job, has the right credentials. "I think John knows what a lot of the players play like and I get on well with him. We've had good fun when we've been together. But I'd probably like to speak to someone first before a decision is made."