Murray feels sting of rankings slip

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You had only to look at the line-up for yesterday's final qualifying matches here at the Mutua Madrilena Masters to appreciate the quality of the field that Andy Murray and Tim Henman will be facing this week. Among those who fell at the last hurdle were Mikhail Youzhny, a US Open semi-finalist last month, and Nicolas Almagro, one of the year's leading Spaniards.

Entry and seedings for the nine Masters Series tournaments are governed by the world rankings and when the draw was made yesterday, Murray might have regretted dropping four places to No 20 after failing to win a match in his past two tournaments. The top 16 seeds here were all given byes into the second round.

With 18 of the world's top 20 in the 48-strong field (the injured Lleyton Hewitt and Radek Stepanek are the only absentees), Murray was no doubt grateful to find himself paired with a qualifier, Ivan Navarro Pastor, in the opening round. The 24-year-old Spaniard, ranked No 129 in the world, generally plays on the Challenger circuit but has won two of his last three tournaments, both on clay.

While Murray's end-of-season goal of a place in the Tennis Masters Cup is almost certainly beyond him ­ he would probably need to win two of his next three tournaments to make the field of eight for Shanghai ­ there are still plenty of ranking points at stake. If he wins today he will next play Ivan Ljubicic, the world No 3, who beat Fernando Gonzalez in straight sets in yesterday's Vienna indoor final.

Two more top-10 players, James Blake and Nikolay Davydenko, won their respective finals in Stockholm and Moscow. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, seeded to meet in the final here, are the only men to have secured their Shanghai places.

Henman, who was given a wild card here, was drawn to play Fernando Verdasco. The 22-year-old Spaniard won their only previous meeting, in last year's US Open. The winner meets the Spaniard David Ferrer.

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