Murray adds scalp of Ljubicic to hit list

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The Independent Online

Andy Murray tries to keep both outstanding victories and unexpected defeats in perspective, but there was no disguising his pleasure after his victory over Ivan Ljubicic, the world No 3, in the second round of the Madrid Masters here yesterday. Murray won 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 against an opponent he regards as the second best indoor player in the world behind Roger Federer.

Ljubicic, one of the hardest hitters and most consistent performers, has won more matches under cover than anyone else over the last two years and had started the current indoor campaign by reaching the final in Bangkok and winning in Vienna. Murray, however, stood firm in the face of the 27-year-old Croat's power and won with an excellent all-round display.

While it cannot equal the impact of his straight-sets victory over Federer in Cincinnati two months ago, this triumph underlined Murray's progress, particularly since Brad Gilbert's appointment as his coach. Among the other scalps he has claimed this year are those of Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Fernando Gonzalez.

"To win against a guy who is No 3 in the world is a huge win for me," Murray said. "Playing against guys in the top 10 in the world is a great test. A win like today makes me feel like I can get to the level they're at. It's a good benchmark."

Murray's world ranking, currently at No 19, is certain to receive another boost next week and this win maintains his outside chance of earning a place in the end-of-season Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai.

It is proving a good week for the British, with Tim Henman also through to today's third round, in which he faces David Nalbandian, the world No 4. Murray plays Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, one of his best friends on the tour, who is one week younger and two places higher in the rankings. They played each other regularly on the junior circuit, but this will be their first meeting as seniors.

Murray said he regarded Djokovic as the favourite to win, though he had said the same, understandably, about Ljubicic. The Croat did not drop his heavyweight serve once in his last tournament and on the fast court here and in the slightly thinner air (Madrid is 650 metres above sea level) most players have trouble returning the ball against him. He reached last year's final, losing to Rafael Nadal in a fifth set tie-break.

Murray had failed to win a match in his previous two tournaments but came here refreshed, whereas Ljubicic had a demanding week in Vienna. The Croat played some tired shots, though credit had to go to Murray for wearing down his opponent.

The British No 1 returned consistently and served well on the rare occasions when he got into trouble. He was particularly pleased with his volleying, which is becoming an increasingly productive part of his game.

"Against some guys it's really difficult to work out the tactics, but it's not that difficult against Ljubicic," Murray said. "You just try and hold on to your own serve and try and get his back and see what happens."

Murray had already threatened Ljubicic's serve before he made the vital first break in the ninth game. Ljubicic had been regularly outwitted by Murray's drop shots in the first set, but started to read his game more easily in the second. He served out after taking a 3-0 lead, but Murray still had chances to break back and maintained the pressure in the final set.

The Scot made the decisive breakthrough in the eighth game, taking his first break point with an excellent forehand winner. In the next game he converted his first match point with an ace.

Murray has yet to play here in an evening match, where the ball-girls are all models. "As I was walking off the court, the models were waiting to go on for Ferrero's match," he said. "It's a little disappointing, though maybe I'm concentrating better in my matches than I might have done."

The models were on parade for Nadal's first match, a routine straight-sets victory over Mardy Fish that was watched by a large contingent of Real Madrid players, including the former England captain David Beckham. There were early exits, however, for James Blake and Mario Ancic, beaten by Kristof Vliegen and Robby Ginepri respectively.