Andy Murray had in the back of his mind the tantalising prospect of taking the world No 2 ranking from Roger Federer if he had won the French Open. The Scot was also canny enough to know it was unlikely to happen. Winning four matches on the red clay of Roland Garros was as much as Murray could realistically have hoped for, considering he had managed only two victories there on previous visits. Clay is a surface Murray grew up on but it remains, by some distance, his least favoured grand-slam surface.
Outranking Federer and even ousting Rafael Nadal from the world No 1 position are objectives that remain achievable and Murray is a patient, mature 22-year-old with time on his side. He could be forgiven for leaving Paris for the short grass-court season in his British homeland deflated by his 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, 6-4 quarter-final humbling at the hands of a renowned clay-court specialist in Chile's Fernando Gonzalez.
On the contrary. He remains confident that a major honour is on the horizon, if not at Wimbledon where Nadal and Federer will be planning to put on a re-match of their epic final of a year ago, then either at the US Open, where he finished runner-up to Federer last season, or the Australian Open in which he was a disappointing favourite in January. "The year as a whole has been by some way my best so far," said Murray, "so I'm not going to get down on myself after a defeat like this one.
"I've won a lot more matches on clay this year than I had in the past probably - probably double the amount of matches that I had won in my life on clay before this stretch." Murray, who took a fearful beating from Nadal in the Wimbledon quarter-finals last year, knows that he cannot meet the defending champion or the five-time winner Federer until the semi-finals this time so a career-best performance at the All England Club is on the cards.
"Normally I have a lot more time to prepare for the grass," he remarked, mindful of his previously unimpressive Roland Garros record. "But I don't feel like I'm going to be rusty at all going in to it, because I have played a lot and still feel confident." For a few fleeting moments it seemed Murray would be delayed a little longer on his journey from the French capital to the English one as he fought back strongly to draw level at a set all in the quarter-final.
Then, partially distracted by the watering of the court, he failed to win a game in the ensuing set to put him on the back foot against an opponent who, he observed, was striking the ball as hard as any he has faced. He regrouped in the fourth set, retrieved a service break only to hand victory to the Chilean by making four successive unforced errors when serving to stay in the championship. email@example.com