There were only a few hundred spectators left to witness Andy Murray's exit from the French Open here last night and those who were still on Court Suzanne Lenglen at 9.34pm when Tomas Berdych hit his winning shot were probably wishing they had come equipped with night-vision glasses, umbrellas and blankets. Murray, clearly unhappy with the conditions, lost 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
The match started under grey skies at 6.40pm, was halted for a 35-minute rain break midway through the second set and finished in near darkness. However, there could be no doubt that Berdych deserved his fourth-round victory. The 24-year-old Czech, recording his first win over a top 10 player in a Grand Slam tournament, kept his mind on the task and played at a high level.
Murray's demeanour in the closing stages said everything. Berdych said that his coach had told him during the rain break that Murray "was looking like he doesn't want to play". Berdych added: "He didn't give me too much pressure in the rallies. I was really comfortable. On almost all the points, all the shots, I had plenty of pace to do everything I wanted. That's why I won in straight sets."
Although Murray refused to make excuses – "It was exactly the same for both of us," he said afterwards – the Scot's displeasure at playing on a wet court in such conditions was evident. "I slipped a couple of times when we came back out," Murray said. "It was just really damp. The ball was getting a lot of clay on it. The covers at the back of the court were damp as well, so every time the ball went in there it was getting wet."
Murray would have liked to have seen the match suspended in the third set, though he pointed out that Berdych had made the first complaint. "Like Tomas said, the balls were gathering a lot of clay," he said. "The balls were brown by the end of the match and it was just tough to see. It was dark at the end." He added: "If one guy doesn't want to play or is finding it hard to see, then we should stop."
While the French Open is always the Grand Slam tournament where Murray struggles the most, he may regard this as a missed opportunity. The Scot, who has stressed all year the importance of peaking at the major events, had belatedly found his clay-court form and had successfully negotiated tricky hurdles in the first week here.
Berdych, nevertheless, has long been recognised as a major talent, although this is only the second time he has reached a Grand Slam quarter-final. The world No 17 has a big serve and thunderous ground strokes, hit flat and low over the net. When he struck the ball on his forehand in particular it sounded like gunfire.
Murray had nine break points against him in the first set and successfully defended eight of them, but at 3-3, having recovered from 0-40 to 30-40, he netted a routine backhand. The world No 4 saved two set points two games later, but Berdych served out at 5-4, swapping his blunderbuss for a stiletto on the final point by playing a winning drop shot.
From 40-0 up in the opening game of the second set Murray lost five points in a row to drop serve again, but three games later, 67 minutes into the match, he converted his only break point when Berdych missed a backhand.
The break of serve seemed to fire up Murray, who hit four aces in his next two service games and was playing his best tennis of the match when the rain, which had been in the air from the start of the second set, started to fall more heavily.
The players left the court at 8.03pm, but the covers did not come on immediately, making the court wetter than ever. When the match resumed the rain had stopped, but it was cold and gloomy. "Come on Andy, this is like summer in Scotland," a British voice shouted from the crowd. Murray was not laughing.
The Scot was within two points of winning the second set when Berdych served at 4-5 and 30-30, but the Czech held firm, broke in the following game courtesy of two backhand winners and served out for the set.
At 3-3 in the third set Murray lost four points in a row when serving from 30-0 up, including a double fault to set up break point. At 3-5 Murray looked a beaten man and served another double fault at 0-30. Berdych secured victory on his second match point thanks to a big forehand return.
"I got myself back into it and struggled when we came back out from the rain delay, but he played a good match" Murray said. "He hit a big ball. The conditions were very heavy and he was striking the ball really well."
Berdych now plays Russia's Mikhail Youzhny, who went through when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the last French player in singles competition, retired with a back injury after losing the first set 6-2.
Roger Federer was the first man into the quarter-finals, beating his friend and fellow Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka, 6-3, 7-6, 6-2 to record his fourth straight-sets victory in succession. He now meets Robin Soderling in a repeat of last year's final after the Swede overpowered Marin Cilic, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
British interest in the doubles ended when Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski were beaten 7-6, 4-6, 7-6 by Wesley Moodie and Dick Norman. However, both Britons in the boys' tournament progressed. Ashley Hewitt beat the No 8 seed, Austria's Dominic Thiem, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3, while Oliver Golding beat France's Mick Lescure 7-6, 6-4.Reuse content