Murray grows up and goes up rankings after sterling show

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The Independent Online

Since Roger Federer proved at the French Open that a mauling from Rafael Nadal is something that can happen to the very best, Andy Murray's take on the beating he suffered from the Spaniard in the quarter-final at Wimbledon was an indication of the good sense and maturity which has this year replaced the tendency towards rants and sulks.

It was, as he pointed out, a learning experience, just as his storming comeback against Richard Gasquet in the previous round was something from which he gained more than prize money. Even the Nadal bombardment could not undermine the good news factor at Wimbledon 2008 for Murray. He marched deeper than ever before into a Grand Slam and when the new rankings are published tomorrow he will be back up to ninth.

Since, if you ignore his wishful comment that he thought he could win the whole thing, these were his serious, stated aims, a return to the top 10 is an enormous boost as the US Open comes over the horizon.

So the conclusion has to be that Murray's career continues very much on an upward curve as he prepares, after a few days' well-deserved rest, to head off to pre-US Open tournaments on the North American hard courts of Indianapolis, Toronto and Cincinnati. Since he did not come back to the Tour until early August last year following the wrist injury which wiped out most of his summer, Murray has the opportunity to pick up additional ranking points and enjoy a further rise up the rankings. If he goes inside the top eight, it will be a very merry Murray who turns up at Flushing Meadows later next month, guaranteed a decent draw.

After paying sincere tribute to his quarter-final conqueror ("he played so much better than me"), Murray addressed his own immediate requirements. "I have to view [the defeat] as a good thing which shows that I need to improve so many things in my game. It's up to me to make sure I go and do that. I have to work even harder and try to get up to [Nadal's] level, which I do think is possible. It's just gonna take a lot of hard work.

"I've got to try and be positive about the whole two weeks. The Gasquet match is obviously one of the best I've ever played. And I had three solid matches before that against good players.

"It's been a positive tournament for me. I got further than my ranking and seeding suggested I would. I'm going to be back in the top 10 and now I've got to try and stay there. I need to make sure that when I'm playing the top guys I can dictate more of the rallies right from the start because they can make you do a lot of running if you're a bit passive at the start of rallies. I mean, there are so many things I can improve. Pretty much every part of my game."

Where Murray has improved from two years ago at Wimbledon is in the strength and fitness department. That marvellous biceps-flexing moment when he put away Gasquet showed what he thought of his improvement in this department. "I was doing it to my fitness trainers," he explained. "I've been putting in so much work off court, and this was the first chance I have had this year to show it."

In addition to the physical strength, Murray has also beefed up his first serve considerably. All he needs to do now is land it on target more regularly for it to become one of the true weapons in his armoury. Deeper experience is also persuading him to employ the drop shot more sparingly, although it is still appearing at injudicious moments. What he must not cast away is the marvellous mixture of tactics which wrongfoots so many opponents, because, apart from Nadal, there is probably no one capable of hitting through the Murray mix to destructive effect. As a devotee of boxing, Murray has surely realised that.

It is a crucial part of Murray's planned improvement that he enjoys better luck with injuries. Improved fitness ought to help here, minimising the risk of strains, if not some of the spectacular pratfalls like the recent one at the Artois Championships in which he sprained his thumb.

Then there is the temper-tantrum question. Most players have suffered spells of this in their early careers, including such present-day "angels" as Roger Federer. In his recently published autobiography, Murray acknowledges childhood moments when he would overturn the board if he was losing at Monopoly. Of late, people were upset by Murray's extreme language on court, plus the occasional boorish behaviour.

This has been addressed by the recruitment as Murray's press liaison man of Stuart Higgins, a former editor of The Sun, whose savvy has transformed Murray's attitude at media gatherings. Andy has acquired a dog, as well as a new persona. All of which helps enormously as he sets about cementing that place in the top 10 and ridding himself of that "miserable git" reputation.