Murray victory helps break British tradition

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The Independent Online

It was tempting to suggest that the British grasscourt season got into full swing in traditional style yesterday. Under grey skies and in a chilling wind, the first day of the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club saw two Britons lose on Centre Court.

However, any suggestion of home despair would be misleading. One of the two British losers, Josh Goodall, went down to the country's No 2, Greg Rusedski, and if there was disappointment at Alan Mackin's failure to beat Russia's Igor Andreev, in three tight sets, it was more than outweighed by the performance of Andrew Murray on an adjoining court. Murray, the most promising newcomer in British tennis, was an impressive winner of his first senior match on grass, beating Spain's Santiago Ventura, 6-1, 6-2.

Murray is that oddity in British tennis, a player for whom the green grass of home is not his favourite surface. He is based in Spain, where he has been learning his trade on the sort of slow courts dominated this year by the new French Open champion, Rafael Nadal (whose opponent in Sunday's Paris final, Mariano Puerta, has pulled out of Queen's with a groin strain).

The 18-year-old from Dunblane feels most at ease on hard courts such as those at Flushing Meadows, where he enjoyed his greatest moment by winning last year's US Open junior title. Last week he was playing his contemporaries again and was disappointed with his exit in the semi-finals of the French Open.

Murray's first and only previous senior match ended in a three-sets defeat to Jan Hernych, of the Czech Republic. The Scot's Parisian adventure limited his grasscourt preparation to just a day and a half, though he was pleased with the form he showed at Surbiton in a practice match against Croatia's Mario Ancic.

Yesterday's win should be seen in some perspective. Ventura, the world No 110, is a clay court specialist who had trouble coming to terms with the surface here. He appeared uneasy on his feet and made many errors. However, the 25-year-old has talent and improved his ranking by more than 250 points last year, when he qualified for his first ATP tournament, in Casablanca, and went on to win it by beating Dominik Hrbaty in the final.

Murray immediately found his rhythm to win the first three games and broke Ventura for a second time before serving out the first set. The second was closer, but the outcome never looked in doubt. Murray served well, hit some thumping backhand winners both down the line and across court.

"I sometimes serve and volley in practice, maybe one or two points a game, just to practise it," he said. "I didn't find the transition from clay to grass that tough, because the court didn't feel much like a grass court. The ball comes quite fast on the serves, but it takes all the spins quite well. It plays more like a slow hard court." Murray hopes that the British grasscourt season will give him the chance to improve his ranking of No 357 - after yesterday's victory he was handed a wild card for Wimbledon, along with Josh Goodall, Alan Mackin, Jonathan Marray and David Sherwood.

The winner of his second-round match (Murray faces either Taylor Dent or Tomas Behrend) is scheduled to meet Tim Henman in the third round. Henman, the No 3 seed here behind Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick, starts today against Robby Ginepri.

The first taste of home expectations did not put off Murray. "To play at home in front of a lot of people is good motivation for me," Murray added. "You feel like you've got a lot of people there helping you and are wanting you to win, so it really makes you play better."

Rusedski made a number of backhand errors but otherwise looked in reasonable shape as he beat Goodall, 6-3, 6-4. Rusedski won with a single break of serve in both sets, achieved through a combination of winning volleys and Goodall's tendency to rush his shots.