They are used to tumbles and mishaps in the converted ice rink where Andy Murray played here yesterday, but the 22-year-old Scot hardly looked distressed after his fall in the third round of the Paris Masters. Despite his 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 defeat in an hour and 37 minutes by Radek Stepanek, Murray declared himself more than happy with his performances over the last 10 days given his return after a six-week break following an injury to his left wrist.
Murray's goal before last week's Valencia Open was to get some matches under his belt in readiness for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, which begin at the O2 Arena in London in 10 days' time. Having played seven times in 10 days – he won the title in Spain and played two more matches here – the world No 4 is delighted to be back in shape with the season-ending finale at the O2 Arena looming.
"I would have signed up for playing seven matches and winning six of them before these two tournaments," Murray said. "It was just what I needed before London. Now I'll get ten days' rest to get rid of all the niggles and stiffness. I'll be feeling good going in there. This was exactly what I needed at this stage of the season after having a break."
What Murray did not need yesterday was a late finish the night before. The Scot completed his three-set victory over James Blake at 1.45am, got to bed at 4am and was back on court by 5.45pm to face Stepanek. "I said last night that it would be difficult to come back and feel 100 per cent today," Murray said. "It was obviously a limited recovery after a long match."
Given those circumstances it was a surprise that Murray made as good a start as he did on Court One here at the Palais des Omnisports. The small court, tucked away below ground level and with an extremely low roof, is one of the more unlikely venues on the tennis circuit, but Murray immediately looked at home and took the first set in just 22 minutes.
In the second set, however, the Scot became momentarily distracted by a photographer in the crowd, dropped his serve and faded quickly. Stepanek broke twice to take a 5-2 lead in the deciding set and although Murray rallied briefly to bring the score back to 5-4 the Czech then served out for victory.
Nikolay Davydenko became the seventh player to qualify for the World Tour Finals – alongside Murray, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick – despite losing to Robin Soderling, one of the contenders for the final available place.
Fernando Verdasco is still the favourite to complete the eight-man field, despite his defeat by Marin Cilic. Soderling, who now plays Djokovic, would need to reach the final to qualify, as would Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who kept his chances alive with an emphatic victory over Gilles Simon. Tsonga now plays Nadal, who beat his fellow Spaniard, Tommy Robredo.
* Wimbledon profits, all of which are ploughed back into British tennis, jumped this year from £25.7m to £29.2m. Over the next 12 months the money will be particularly focused on improving tennis facilities across the country.