Marray takes Hewitt to the brink

Queen's Club is a flag-of-St-George-free-zone. The Centre Court is surrounded by the sponsor's red flags at the Stella Artois Championships. Not that there was a lack of patriotism here yesterday as the crowd cheered on Jonny Marray, a serve-and-volleying wild card from Sheffield whose shots were as sharp as a blade.

Queen's Club is a flag-of-St-George-free-zone. The Centre Court is surrounded by the sponsor's red flags at the Stella Artois Championships. Not that there was a lack of patriotism here yesterday as the crowd cheered on Jonny Marray, a serve-and-volleying wild card from Sheffield whose shots were as sharp as a blade.

In the end, reality prevailed as a single green flag embossed with the golden figure of a kangaroo was waved in honour of Lleyton Hewitt, who took the edge off Marray in two tie-breaks and advanced to today's quarter-finals, 7-6, 7-6.

Marray's bleached hair, in the style of the England footballer Alan Smith, may have made him easy to spot on his forays to the net, but Hewitt often found himself unable to counter his opponent's plundering style.

Remember, we are talking here about Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champion, who holds a 7-0 record against Tim Henman, the British No 1, and, as the sixth seed, is aiming for a third title at the Stella. Remember also that we are talking about Marray, a 23-year-old whose endeavours on the nursery slopes of the professional game have raised his world ranking this year from 385 to 277.

A few years ago, Marray used to hit occasionally with his fellow Yorkshireman Roger Taylor, the then British Davis Cup captain, and was later encouraged by Jim Edgar, who invited him to join his group coaching scheme in Bolton.

Yesterday Marray showed why, as a late developer, he has been embraced by the Lawn Tennis Association's coaches at the national governing body's headquarters at Queen's and was including in Jeremy Bates' Davis Cup squad for the match in Luxembourg in April.

"He enjoys coming to the net," was Hewitt's understatement after watching so many of Marray's volleys whiz past him in a two-set match that lasted an hour and 37 minutes.

The 23-year-old Australian needed all his skills and experience to save six set points while serving at 5-6 in the opening set. Each time he solved one problem, Marray hit him with another, until it looked as though Hewitt would be punch-drunk.

In the tie-break, however, Hewitt seemed to loosen up and find his rhythm. It was not a case of Marray's serve suddenly lacking pace, but rather that the Australian, having been under pressure for so long, decided to go for his shots, and they struck home with venom and accuracy. Hewitt won the opening four points and clinched the shoot-out, 7-2.

Those that imagined Marray's game and spirit would crumble after the disappointment of playing so well and gaining so little, were confounded when he played equally as well, if not better, in the second set. His serving and volleying continued to trouble Hewitt, who was creating few chances.

At least in the first set he had broken Marray to love after losing his own serve in the second game, but now Marray seemed impervious to counter-attack. Until, that is, the Briton was serving to stay in match at 5-6. Hewitt trapped Marray mid-move to the net and lobbed him to 15-40. Two match points.

Marray served away the first, and pressed Hewitt into missing a forehand on the second. A backhand volley and a service winner bought Marray a second tie-break. And this one was tight. Hewitt won the opening two points and went to 3-1 with a backhand lob, only to net a forehand on the next point. Hewitt passed Marray with a backhand to create his third match point, serving at 6-5. Marray cracked him with a volley on that one and saved a fourth match point with another volley.

Marray then created a set point at 8-7 with a service winner off a second serve. Hewitt took care of that, hitting a line with a forehand cross-court drive. The Australian then hit a powerful serve to bring up his fifth match point. Marray did his utmost to erase that one, too, but his angled cross-court backhand drifted wide for 8-10.

Ian Flanagan, Britain's other lowly ranked high-flyer of the week, was unable to extend himself beyond the last 16. Flanagan, the world's 866th best player, was outclassed by the fifth seed, Sebastien Grosjean, a fellow counter-puncher, who last year defeated Henman both here and at Wimbledon.

The Welsh-born 22-year-old was defeated by Grosjean, 6-2, 6-0, in a match that lasted 50 minutes - the length of the first set between Hewitt and Marray.

Unable to reproduce even a semblance of the form that enabled him to defeat Mark Philippoussis, the Wimbledon runner-up, and overcome Victor Hanescu, who eliminated Goran Ivanisevic, Flanagan was disappointed but determined to continue his campaign to earn a place at Wimbledon.

* The three-times French Open winner, Gustavo Kuerten, will miss this year's Wimbledon Championships because of an injury to his right hip.

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