Murray's victory charge blocked by pain barrier

Andrew Murray's senior debut on British courts ended in pain and disappointment yesterday but only after the 18-year-old Scot had given an outstanding display here in the third round of the Stella Artois Championships. Murray was beaten 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, in just under three hours by Sweden's Thomas Johansson, the world No 20, after an ankle injury and cramp put paid to the youngster's chances.

At the end of a contest which had thrilled the Centre Court crowd, Murray was within two points of victory, leading 5-4 and 30-15 on Johansson's serve, when he slipped as he chased a ball along the baseline. Murray took a time-out for treatment to his injured left ankle, but when he came back it was clear that he was struggling.

Johansson served out the game to level at 5-5, but in the following game Murray needed further treatment from Bill Norris, the physiotherapist, when he suffered cramp in his right calf. Murray soldiered on but had great difficulty moving and did not win another point.

It was a desperately sad end for Murray, who had played superbly against a grass court specialist who was the Australian Open champion three years ago. Although the 30-year-old Swede has never quite recaptured the form he showed in Melbourne after serious injury problems, he remains a tough competitor, particularly on grass. He has won at Nottingham twice and at Halle.

Murray, ranked No 357 in the world, had played only one senior match before arriving here and recorded his first win as a senior when he beat Santiago Ventura in the first round. Victory over the big-serving Taylor Dent, the world No 30, followed, but that performance was eclipsed by his display yesterday.

The Scot's all-round game was exceptional. As would be expected from a player who has spent much of the last year on the slow clay courts of Spain he is most comfortable at the back of the court. He rarely ventures forward, though on the occasions when he was brought into the net he volleyed with composure and confidence.

His ground strokes on either side were excellent and his ability to vary the tempo of a rally, alternating between sliced and driven shots, often had Johansson struggling.

His first serve was also a potent weapon, while the excellence of his return of serve generally kept the Swede at the back of the court.

Murray showed his nerve from the start, serving two aces to get himself out of trouble after Johansson had earned three break points. The first set was keenly contested all the way through, with Murray showing admirable spirit to break back immediately after Johansson had broken to lead 5-4. Johansson saved a set point with an ace at 5-6 and the Swede took immediate control of the tie-break, rapidly taking a 4-0 lead before winning 7-1.

The pattern resumed in the second set, with the first break point coming after 10 games. Murray hurled his racket to the ground in frustration after missing his chance by hitting a backhand return long.

Johansson again took command of the tie-break, taking a 4-1 lead, but a series of errors by the Swede let Murray back in. An excellent forehand winner down the line brought set point, which was converted when Johansson put a forehand out.

When Johansson won four successive points from 0-30 down at 1-1 to break Murray's serve in the final set it seemed the end might be close. Once again, however, the Scot broke back immediately, taking advantage of a double-fault and a mishit backhand to set up the final drama.

"I'm very impressed with him," Johansson said after the match. "He's already a very good player and he can obviously get better. One of his biggest strengths is his serve. He's serving at 140mph, which is very impressive for someone who's only 18. He also moves very well. The one thing he could perhaps improve is his second serve return. I didn't feel my second serve was very good today and he might have attacked more."

Greg Rusedski, the British No 2, also went out. He was struggling from the moment he lost his first service game to Radek Stepanek, the world No 16. The Czech broke again in the ninth game of the second set and, although Rusedski replied in kind, he lost the tie-break 7-4 to go down 6-3, 7-6.

l The Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova overcame Australia's Samantha Stosur to clinch her place in the quarter-finals of the DFS Classic in Birmingham yesterday. The 18-year-old Russian dropped a set for only the second time in two years before eventually winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

l The world No 1 Roger Federer cruised into the Halle Open quarter-finals in Berlin with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Germany's Florian Mayer. The Swiss extended his winning streak on grass to 26 matches.

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