Andy Murray's rapid progress may have been brought to a halt at last month's Australian Open but the 21-year-old Scot is doing his best to prove that his fourth-round defeat in the year's opening Grand Slam event was just a blip.
Murray claimed his second title of the year yesterday when he beat Rafael Nadal, the world No 1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 in the final of the World Indoor Tournament in Rotterdam.
Although the match itself was a disappointment, with Nadal severely hampered in the latter stages by a knee injury, the result continued Murray's excellent start to the season. Having begun the year by beating Nadal and Roger Federer on his way to victory in an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi, he has now won 13 of his 14 competitive matches in 2009. His only defeat was at the Australian Open to Fernando Verdasco, who went on to give Nadal his toughest test in Melbourne.
Both players went into yesterday's final with injury doubts. Murray has been suffering from an ankle problem – he has withdrawn from this week's tournament in Marseilles, where he was due to defend his title – while Nadal has had trouble with his right knee.
Murray won the first set after breaking Nadal in the sixth game, but the Spaniard fought back well. However, he was forced to take a medical time-out three games into the second set, after which both players dropped serve four times in a row. Nadal, in particular, could put little power into his serve and offered limited resistance in the final set. The world No 1 is usually the most dogged of retrievers, but was clearly having trouble running.
''I thought the first set was very good,'' Murray said afterwards. ''I played well and saw nothing on Nadal's movement, but after his time out he wasn't running any more and was just hitting the ball hard from the baseline. After the first set and Nadal's problem I really struggled with my service game and got a bit nervous. It was disappointing as it wasn't particularly entertaining at the end.''
Yesterday's match will underline the fears of those who believe that Nadal may become increasingly troubled by knee problems. The world No 1 missed the end of last season, including Spain's historic Davis Cup victory over Argentina, with a knee injury and routinely plays with both legs strapped.
However, he refused to blame his injury for his second successive loss to Murray, who ended a run of five successive defeats to the Spaniard when he won their US Open semi-final last year.
''Murray just played better today,'' Nadal said. ''I tried but couldn't give anything more in the third set. I don't think that this injury will be a serious problem. For sure it is not the same as last year. It was an option not to finish the match, but that is not a good way to finish a final, not for me, not for Andy and not for the crowd.''
Like Murray, Nadal's next scheduled appearance will be in Dubai next week. ''I will have a week now before I play Dubai and don't expect a problem,'' Nadal said.
If the final itself lacked quality, Murray had every reason to be satisfied with his week's work. In previous rounds he had looked in increasingly good shape, particularly in his defeat of Mario Ancic in the semi-finals.
The win also continued his lucrative start to the year. Murray's winning cheque yesterday was for €277,000 (about £248,000), taking his prize-money for the first six weeks of the year to nearly £600,000. He is likely to have earned half as much again from appearance money.
Murray is the first British winner of the Rotterdam tournament, Tim Henman having finished runner-up in 1999, 2000 and 2002. It was the 10th title of the Scot's career. He has won seven times in the last 13 months, including Masters Series tournaments in Cincinnati and Madrid.
*Amélie Mauresmo, the former Wimbledon champion, maintained her recent improvement when she beat Elena Dementieva, the Olympic champion, 7-6, 2-6, 6-4 to claim her third Paris Open title. It was the former world No 1's first tournament victory since she won in Antwerp two years ago.