Andy Murray's Rome Masters ended in defeat to David Ferrer here last night, but the world No 5 was far from despondent despite his third successive early exit from a tournament. Ferrer, who won 6-3, 6-4, is one of the world's best clay-court players and was made to work hard for his third-round victory.
As Murray stressed, his form this week has been a marked improvement on his two previous tournaments, when he was beaten by Mardy Fish in Miami and by Philipp Kohlschreiber in Monte Carlo. Nevertheless, having played only three clay-court matches this season, the 22-year-old Scot will hope for a longer run in a fortnight's time at the Madrid Masters, which will be his last event before the French Open.
Murray, who has won only two matches in four visits to the Foro Italico, could have served better against Ferrer and did not take advantage of his limited opportunities. However, he struck the ball well from the baseline and in other respects did little wrong against an opponent who has played more matches on clay this year than any other man on the main tour: 24 of the Spaniard's 35 contests so far.
"I'm a little bit disappointed but I'm also happy with the way I hit the ball," Murray said afterwards. "If I keep hitting the ball like that, I think I'll do pretty well soon."
While Ferrer does not possess any major weapons, the world No 17 is one of the game's quickest players. On clay, in particular, it can be devilishly difficult to put the ball away against him. A dogged competitor with a Trojan work ethic, he wears opponents down with his sheer tenacity.
"He doesn't give you any free points, he's got a strong serve, he puts a lot of them in the corner and he's incredibly quick," Murray said. "That's why he's been around the top of the game for a long, long time."
The Scot added: "I have a Grand Slam just around the corner, so it's good to play against top players and see what your game's like and what needs to improve. I may have learnt a lot from this match against one of the best clay-court players in the world."
The late-afternoon conditions on a day of glorious sunshine were very different from those Murray had had on a chilly and damp evening against Andreas Seppi two days earlier. There were also more fans inside the stadium, although it was less than half-full at the start as spectators took a break following the dramatic preceding encounter between Filippo Volandri, the last Italian in the competition, and Ernests Gulbis, Roger Federer's conqueror. The Latvian won a final set tie-break and plays Spain's Feliciano Lopez in today's quarter-finals.
Murray started well enough but put just 29 per cent of his first serves in court in the first set. Ferrer made the only break in the sixth game after Murray mishit a backhand and then dumped a hurried forehand into the net. The Scot failed with two chances to break back in the next game.
The second set began in similar fashion, although Murray was putting more first serves in and striking the ball with more power. However, he failed to convert a break point when Ferrer served at 2-3 and paid for it in the following game when he hit a smash straight at the Spaniard when 40-30 up.
Murray was the aggressor in a series of gruelling baseline rallies, but Ferrer kept getting the ball back. Murray saved two break points, but on the third he put a backhand into the net. Three games later Ferrer secured his quarter-final place against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga when Murray netted a forehand.
Novak Djokovic beat Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 6-4 and now meets Fernando Verdasco in a rematch of the Monte Carlo semi-final in which he was routed; Robin Soderling lost to Stanislas Wawrinka.Reuse content