A backs-to-the-wall victory over Ernests Gulbis in the Artois Championships here yesterday underlined Andy Murray's mental strength, which was just as well given his physical state of health. The 21-year-old Scot won 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 despite suffering a series of falls on a court made treacherous by rain and having treatment for injuries to his neck, groin and right thumb.
The most serious problem is the thumb and Murray will see a doctor this morning before deciding whether to play his quarter-final today against Andy Roddick. Painkillers helped the world No 11 get through the match, but he was suffering afterwards. "Every 10 minutes I could feel like it was getting stiffer and stiffer, a little bit more swollen," he said. "I couldn't really sign autographs or open my water bottle after the match."
In cold and overcast conditions the umpire called an early halt to the match at 2-2 after both players fell. They were on court again within 20 minutes, but the conditions were still tricky. After hurting his groin in the first game of the third set Murray asked the tour supervisor to rule whether the court was playable.
"I felt really uncomfortable on the court," Murray said. "I was slipping so much, a metre-and-a-half or two metres after hitting shots. I know grass courts are supposed to be slippy, but they're not supposed to be that bad. When you change direction you expect your feet to go from underneath you a little bit, but not when you're running up to the balls. You shouldn't be feeling like you're going to slide a couple of metres after your shot.
"I asked if I could see the supervisor because I didn't feel the court was fit to play on at that stage. He said: 'It's not raining. There's nothing we can do.' I can kind of understand that, but I think players' health is very important just before Wimbledon. I was considering stopping the match."
On-court drama and Murray go together like Pimm's and Queen's and the match was reminiscent of his debut here three years ago, when he fell to the ground with an ankle injury when on the point of victory over Thomas Johansson. On that occasion Murray picked himself up and lost. This time he showed great resilience and considerable courage to come from behind and beat last week's French Open quarter-finalist.
Gulbis took the first set thanks to a break of serve in the 11th game, after which Murray took his first injury time-out to have treatment to his thumb. From 1-1 in the second set Murray won five games in a row, but in the opening game of the decider he screamed in pain after losing his footing and needed treatment on his groin and neck.
The final set went with serve until Murray broke to lead 5-4 thanks to a superb piece of anticipation. The British No 1 guessed where Gulbis would direct a smash and surprised the 19-year-old Latvian with a backhand down the line.
Roddick, who has won the title here four times in the last five years, beat Mardy Fish after his fellow American retired at the end of the first set with an ankle injury. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic both progressed despite losing sets to Kei Nishikori and Janko Tipsarevic respectively.
Fernando Gonzalez lost to Ivo Karlovic after incurring a game penalty at 6-5 down in the second set. The Chilean had earlier been warned for ball abuse and was then docked a point for smashing his racket in anger after dropping his serve. A further warning for ball abuse effectively handed the match to Karlovic.