Andy Murray's Great North American Adventure ground to a temporary halt with defeat by Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals of the Masters Series event in Cincinnati. But once again the Scottish 19-year-old, who will be seeded and inside the top 20 for the final Grand Slam of the season, the US Open beginning a week tomorrow, demonstrated what remarkable progress he has made even since Wimbledon last month.
It was in Wimbledon's third round that Murray pulled off one of the finest victories of his young career by swatting aside Roddick, the 2004 and 2005 runner-up, in straight sets, and the American clearly relished the sweetness of revenge with his 6-3 6-4 dismissal of a fast-tiring Murray to reach his fourth consecutive Cincinnati semi-final.
Still, as Murray claimed afterwards, he will march into the US Open with confidence sky high. "It was no bad thing for me to lose this one," he said. "If I had gone all the way to the final I would have needed to take two or three days off, and I might not be able to prepare as well as I want for the US Open."
Now, after a draining run of 14 matches in 17 days (11 won, three lost), Murray will award himself a short break over the weekend before heading off to the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida for a pre-planned five-day training spell designed to improve his stamina. "Then I can taper down before the tournament starts," he said.
Murray also revealed that, having been on the brink of collapse after defeating Robby Ginepri on Thursday in fierce heat, he had contemplated conceding a walkover to Roddick. "I considered pulling out when I woke up this morning, and again about half an hour before I went on court," he said. Then, having opted to play rather than disappoint the packed arena, he decided, "I felt I had one hour where I could compete with him."
In fact, the match lasted one hour 35 minutes, with Murray visibly wilting in the later stages, further indication of the need to work on his stamina.
That has indisputably improved, since Murray has put himself to the test by having played 52 singles matches this year, winning 32 of them. Fifteen of his 20 losses had come by the start of Wimbledon, so the upswing since then has been remarkable.
Much of the credit for the 18-5 record he is now riding in the second half of the tennis year has gone to Brad Gilbert, who became the coach Murray had been lacking since March just in time to oversee a three-tournament spurt which took the teenager to the final in Washington, the semi-finals of the Toronto Masters Series event and now the quarters in Cincinnati in successive weeks.
Murray regularly confounds those who assume the clay on which he learned to perform his elegant, deceptively casual brand of tennis is his best surface. Not so, insists Murray, who nominates the hard courts of North America, correctly as it has turned out.
So Gilbert's expertise found its outlet in helping to make Murray play even better than he was expecting to do. And, as Murray pointed out, just being there to support him. "If I was on my own, I would have struggled. When there's someone there, whether it's a coach, your mum or one of your friends, then it makes it easier."
In Gilbert, of course, he has been supplied by the Lawn Tennis Association with one of the game's finest, someone who took Andre Agassi and then Roddick to No 1 in the rankings. "He is probably the most positive guy I have met," said Murray of his new coach. "He's always on good form, never in a bad mood, so in that respect he has helped me a lot."
As he proved so regularly in his playing days by maximising an unremarkable talent, Gilbert is someone of many qualities. Added to his non-stop stream of advice ("Brad can talk under water," says John Lloyd), the Californian pays atten-tion to the finest detail. When playing at the US Open, Gilbert once asked for a towel, and when it arrived grumbled, "Don't you have anything fluffier?"
Even a fluffier towel would not have saved Murray on Friday night. Having not played either Washington or Toronto, Roddick's freshness merely fuelled up his determination to crush the upstart who had beaten him twice this year in straight sets.
Since taking on Jimmy Connors as an advisor, Roddick has abandoned the baseline and become more positive, something much needed after slumping outside the top 10 and not winning a title so far this year. Murray was worn down and eventually overcome by Roddick's barrage of 16 aces and huge forehands, though his trademark resilience was shown in the four match points he saved before finally capitulating to a service winner.
Magic Month: Hard graft, from Delgado to Federer
OVERALL (Since 31 July)
Played 14 Won 11 Lost 3.
LEGG MASON CLASSIC WASHINGTON DC (31 JULY-6 AUG)
Second round: beat Ramon Delgado (Par, ATP ranking 109) 6-4 6-3.
Last 16: beat Feliciano Lopez (Sp, 63) 7-5 6-2.
Quarter-final: beat Mardy Fish (US, 70) 6-2 6-4.
Semi-final: beat Dmitry Tursunov (Rus, 29) 6-2 7-5.
Final: lost to Arnaud Clement (Fr, 57) 6-7 2-6.
ATP MASTERS SERIES TORONTO (7-13 AUG)
First round: beat David Ferrer (Sp, 13) 6-2 7-6.
Second round: beat Tim Henman (GB, 60) 6-2 7-6.
Last 16: beat Carlos Moya (Sp, 49) 6-2 6-4.
Quarter-final: beat Jarkko Nieminen (Fin, 15) 6-4 6-7 6-3.
Semi-final: lost to Richard Gasquet (Fr, 51) 2-6 5-7.
ATP MASTERS SERIES CINCINNATI (14-20 AUG)
First round: beat Tim Henman (GB, 60) 4-6 6-4 7-5.
Second round: beat Roger Federer (above, Swit, 1) 7-5 6-4.
Last 16: beat Robby Ginepri (US, 15) 7-6 2-6 6-4.
Quarter-final: lost to Andy Roddick (US, 12) 6-3 6-4.Reuse content