As his former coach would have put it, Andy Murray won ugly. Less than 48 hours after his majestic performance against Roger Federer in the first round of the Barclays Dubai Championships, the British No 1 ground out a laboured victory over Fernando Verdasco here yesterday.
Murray won 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, but this was a contest he could easily have lost. The confidence generated by a superb display of serving and shot-making against the world's best player evaporated as Murray repeatedly mistimed his shots. Whereas Federer did not generate a single break point, Verdasco broke the Scot's serve three times. If Murray's performance lacked finesse, however, there could be no doubting his gritty determination.
The weather did not make flowing tennis easy. A swirling wind which seemed to whip up a dusty haze – it was barely possible to see the outlines of the giant skyscrapers of Sheikh Zayed Road that dominate the western skyline here – made lobs and drop shots particularly perilous.
Combined with the fierce sunshine and rising afternoon temperature, the conditions were very different to the still and warm evening on which Murray had mastered the master. The world No 11 also seems to perform best in front of a full house like Monday night's; for this match there were more people in the bars and restaurants that circle centre court than there were inside.
After the match the 20-year-old Scot made little of a recurring right knee problem that troubled him from early in the second set, but for several games it clearly affected his movement. Murray's bipartite patella – his kneecap, unusually, is in two parts – regularly troubles him and was the reason he withdrew from Britain's Davis Cup squad last month.
In the circumstances Murray was perhaps fortunate to come up against an opponent who seems to think game plans are for sissies. Verdasco, the world No 30, has a potent serve and a huge forehand, but for every cracking winner there is a careless thunderbolt into the net or out of the court. When Murray was struggling with his movement the Spaniard foolishly declined to manoeuvre him around the court.
Having taken the first set with a break in the sixth game, Murray was already starting to make more mistakes when he jarred his knee in the third game of the second set. The Scot broke first in the decider, only to drop his own serve in the following game.
A dog's dinner of a match ended with a pudding of a final point in the tie-break. Having wasted three match points from 6-2 up with two horribly mishit forehands and a netted backhand, Murray decided that supreme caution was the order of the day. Verdasco finally settled on the same approach and the result was a rally lasting 51 seconds. Thirty-three strokes were exchanged with all the punch of a feather pillow until the Spaniard could restrain himself no longer and blasted a forehand out.
Murray, who now meets Nikolay Davydenko, said afterwards: "The problem today was that I was missing way too early in the rallies. I was shanking a lot of balls. I missed a lot of returns and wasn't feeling comfortable on the ball at all. My game style is obviously to get into the rallies and, when I do, to try to get my opponent out of position and go for the winners. Today was a very different match to Monday's. I didn't play well and it's just about getting through those ones. I definitely struggled, but I'm really happy with the way I fought."
Richard Gasquet and Tomas Berdych, Nos 8 and No 10 in the world, went out to Igor Andreev and Feliciano Lopez, but the rest of the big names duly took their places in today's quarter-finals. Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer and Andy Roddick progressed at the expense of Mikhail Ledovskikh, Fabrice Santoro, Olivier Rochus and Paul-Henri Mathieu respectively.
While big appearance fees are the major reason for the superb field here, the players also enjoy their time off. Djokovic has been testing his winter skills at Ski Dubai, the indoor ski slope featuring "real" snow, while Nadal went up the Burj Dubai, which will be the world's tallest tower. The building is still under construction, but Nadal took an outside lift to go to the 158th floor, 600 metres above ground level. Roddick has simply been enjoying his hotel, the £900-a-night Burj Al Arab, which is built in the shape of a billowing sail. "It's pretty cool," Roddick said. "I could spend hours just walking around there. It's weird. It's like Star Wars. It feels as though Darth Vader should be walking down the hallway."Reuse content