His Grand Slam year is over and he has all but given up on reaching his season's target of a place in the Tennis Masters Cup, but Andy Murray believes 2007 can still be memorable for the right reasons. After losing in four sets to Hyung-Taik Lee in the third round of the US Open on Saturday night, Murray said he was determined to make Britain's Davis Cup tie against Croatia at Wimbledon later this month the highlight of his campaign.
The tie, from 21-23 September, gives Britain a chance to return to the World Group for the first time since 2003, but the most important aspect for Murray is the opportunity to give Tim Henman a winning end to his career. Following his defeat to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga here on Friday, the former British No 1 will make his final bow at Wimbledon.
It would be hard to overstate how much Britain's young players, and Murray in particular, look up to Henman. They admire his professionalism and achie-vements, as well as his dignity and decency.
Looking ahead to the Croatia tie, Murray said: "I can't wait. Everyone on the team is going to want to win for Tim. I'm hoping the way I play in the Davis Cup will show him what his career meant to me and my development. He's been great since I came on the tour. I'd like to play my best for him. It would be a great way for him to finish his career."
Six months ago Murray would have regarded a 6-3, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 defeat to the world No 43 as a major disappointment, but after his injury-ravaged summer there were some positives to take from his performance against Lee. The 31-year-old Korean is enjoying his best year and some of his tennis was exceptional; his retrieving and speed around the court were outstanding and he hardly missed a volley or overhead.
Murray, who arrived here having played five tournament matches since March, mistimed too many shots, put only 52 per cent of his first serves in play and made eight double faults, but he also hit some scorching winners – his racket wrist is back in full working order – and showed again, as in beating Jonas Bjorkman in five sets in the previous round, what a fighter he is.
From two sets down Murray raised his game to take the third and broke serve at the start of the fourth, only for Lee to hit back immediately and race into a 5-2 lead. In the next game Murray saved Lee's first match point with a brave volley and then broke back to trail 5-4.
Some of the play was classic Murray, with one point in particular standing out. Having tempted Lee into the net by taking the pace off his shots, the Scot then left him stranded with an exquisite lob. At 5-6 and 15-30, however, Murray put a loose backhand in the net before Lee took the match with a forehand winner down the line.
"Maybe I didn't play as consistently as I would have liked, but he played well," Murray said. "Normally in those matches I'm the one making the big shots or the shots on the run, but he was the one coming up with them.
"I would obviously rather have done better, but it's been a long time since I felt like I could play at that level. My game is still nowhere near where I would like it. I was making a lot of mistakes that I don't normally make and my return was not the best, but I guess it's not a bad result considering the circumstances.
"Physically I was in good shape and that's one of the positives I have to take. A couple of years ago when I played a five-set match I played a few days later and was still tired. Today I was feeling much better."
Although Murray could in theory still make the eight-man field for the Masters Cup, which brings together the year's most successful players, he talked of a more modest goal, "trying to get myself back to the level I was at the start of the year". He will make four more appearances in 2007, at the Masters series events in Madrid and Paris and at tournaments in Moscow and St Petersburg.
While the British No 1 felt his game had inevitably taken a backward step during his absence, he agreed that the experience would make him tougher mentally. He also said that his relationship with Brad Gilbert was "much stronger than it was before", despite the coach's evident frustration with his player's cautious return after injury.
"You learn a lot about someone when they're going through tough times," Murray said. "Everybody gets on good when things are going well, but when they aren't you see the support that you get from someone. Of course Brad was disappointed that I missed such a big chunk of the year. Everybody was because I was playing well. I've had a few long chats with Brad and I think it's much stronger than it was before I had the injury."Reuse content