Andy Murray's season ended in disappointment here last night when defeat by Richard Gasquet in a thrilling quarter-final of the Paris Masters ended his hopes of qualification for the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. The 20-year-old Scot went into the match as one of three players with a chance of securing the last place in the eight-man field for the season's finale but was beaten 6-3, 0-6, 6-4 by Gasquet, who will now contest the final qualifying spot with Marcos Baghdatis.
Although his year finished in defeat, Murray can take great heart from coming so close to achieving his season's goal. But for the wrist injury that kept him out of action for three months and forced him to miss two Grand Slam tournaments he would surely have secured his place in the elite line-up for the end-of-year showcase event, which begins in eight days.
There was certainly no shame in losing to Gasquet, who is one of the game's most talented players. The 21-year-old Frenchman, who plays David Nalbandian in today's semi-finals, will claim the eighth place in Shanghai unless Baghdatis wins the final here tomorrow. Before that the Cypriot has to play Rafael Nadal in the first semi-final this afternoon.
Mikhail Youzhny's defeat to Nadal in yesterday's penultimate quarter-final had ensured that Fernando Gonzalez would fill the seventh berth for Shanghai and that Gasquet, Murray and Baghdatis would be fighting it out for the final place.
It was clear that Gasquet and Murray were fired up for the occasion, with the match played at breakneck speed. Gasquet, striking the ball with great confidence, won the first set by breaking serve in the eighth game after three successive Murray errors. If the British No 1 had played a number of loose shots in the first set he was a changed man in the second as he cracked winners down both flanks and forced his opponent into mistakes.
Gasquet has frozen on big occasions in the past and the pressure of playing in front of a passionate home crowd seemed to get to him, though he later paid tribute to the fans for helping to raise his game again in the final set.
There was only one break in the decider, Murray losing his serve to love to trail 3-2. The set then went with serve until Gasquet clinched victory on his second match point when Murray hit a backhand return long. The Frenchman fell to the floor in celebration.
Murray felt he had played only three bad games in the match and although the Scot said Gasquet deserved to win, he was disappointed to lose a match in which he won more points and more games than his opponent. Nevertheless Murray was happy with the way he had played this autumn since returning from injury.
"I think what I've done this year is unbelievable," he said. " I'm really positive about what I did at the end of the year and at the start of the year. There are so many things that I can improve on. I'm going to do that in the off-season. I'll get even fitter and stronger than I was this year."
For those who narrowly miss out on qualification, the continuing speculation over Andy Roddick's participation in Shanghai is a straw to clutch. Roddick, who along with Roger Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davydenko, David Ferrer and Gonzalez, has already booked his place, has a heel injury. Murray could be in second place on the list of reserves, although he said that he would not travel to China simply in the hope of others pulling out. Tommy Robredo, who began the day in the final qualifying place, was removed from the equation when he lost 6-4, 6-4 to Baghdatis. Nalbandian overcame David Ferrer 7-6, 6-7, 6-2.