Happy returns were in short supply for Andy Murray at the Hamburg Masters yesterday as he was predictably outclassed 6-3, 6-2 by an imperious Rafael Nadal on his 21st birthday.
Despite showing flashes of the form that saw him dispatch Dmitry Tursunov and Gilles Simon earlier this week, and which suggested he was getting to grips with clay, the undisputed king of the surface was simply too good.
Murray began strongly by holding serve to love in the opening game, but an horrific smash into the net set the tone for his next attempt as Nadal gratefully accepted the first of two break points.
At the same event where he badly injured his wrist last year, the Scot appeared to be troubled by a left knee problem and had no answer to his opponent's fearsome and unerringly accurate hitting in the early stages. "Nadal's forehand is the best shot in tennis," said Murray. "When you go behind against him on clay it's very hard to get back."
At 3-1 down, in his next service game, Murray hit a sublime backhand lob at full stretch to lift his spirits on the way to holding after two deuces, but the pressure from the world No 2 remained relentless.
Murray claimed two break points of his own in the eighth game, only for Nadal to hold and increase the frustration still further – a perfect drop shot at deuce prompting a pained slump in the emotional Scot's shoulders.
The British No 1 saved a first set point on his serve in the ninth, but two weak forehands into the net offered second and third chances to Nadal, the latter converted when the birthday boy volleyed long to concede the first set 6-3.
Murray immediately hit back, however, to claim a first break in the opening game of the second set, but Nadal instantly got back on terms to reassert his superiority. Nadal clinched a second break in the fourth game, sealed with a looping forehand up the line which brushed the chalk, to move into an ominous 3-1 lead.
The Spaniard had a first match point on Murray's serve in the eighth, and although that was saved, another forehand into the net put an end to the Briton's preparations for Roland Garros. Nadal, who has now won all three of the pair's meetings, will face compatriot Carlos Moya in the quarter-finals.
Roger Federer continued his trouble-free progress with a 6-3, 6-2 win over the unseeded Swede Robin Soderling, while Novak Djokovic, the third-seeded Serb, joined the top seed in the quarter-finals after winning a tough match with Croatia's Ivo Karlovic 7-6, 6-3. Fifth seed David Ferrer went out in an all-Spanish battle with Fernando Verdasco when losing 7-6, 6-2.
Federer, who beat Nadal to win the title for the fourth time last year, was barely made to sweat with a second successive straight-sets win at the clay court tournament. "I controlled things from the baseline and I served well when I had to," Federer said. "He has a big game, a big serve, but I retrieved it well and scrambled well. That was important." Federer's next opponent will be Verdasco after his surprise win over Ferrer.Reuse content