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Thursday, May 13, 2010
Don't expect Murray to maul the French field

6. What's in it for Andy?

In Andy Murray's case, five tournaments constitute his prep for Wimbledon. No, they haven't suddenly extended the grass-court season. The wonderfully run AEGON Championships, better known as Queen's, are joined by Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid and the French Open.

Yes, let's be honest. Murray, for all his improvement on clay last year, isn't a contender at Roland Garros. He's just hoping to gain some momentum heading into Wimbledon, where the pressure might be off a little because the attention shifts to England at the World Cup. (If England fails to win it, which is almost a certainty, and Murray triumphs at SW19, his already massive personal fortune goes through the Centre Court roof.)

Murray admitted his head wasn't right during the spring U.S. hard-court swing, but vows he's better now. After struggling in Monte Carlo and Rome (ousted by the clay-proficient duo of Philipp Kohlschreiber and David Ferrer, respectively), Murray gathered momentum in Madrid this week, aided by a cream-puff draw to the quarterfinals -- bye, then Argentine veteran Juan Ignacio Chela and Romanian Victor Hanescu. Both have seen better days, even if Chela recently won a dirt title in the U.S. and Hanescu got to a final in Casablanca.

Unfortunately for Murray, the faster conditions in Madrid are dissimilar to the French. And despite spending part of his youth training in Barcelona at the Sanchez-Casal Academy, he still hasn't mastered the slide on clay. That takes time.

Murray entered the 2009 French Open on more of a roll, reaching the semis in Monte Carlo, contesting a tight second set against Rafael Nadal when the latter uncharacteristically wobbled. Murray backed it up in Madrid.

But the soon-to-be 23-year-old (his birthday is Saturday), continuing to use former French Open runner-up Alex Corretja as a consultant, needed a choke from Italian Potito Starace to bypass the second round. Tied 1-1 in sets, the lanky clay-court specialist blew a 5-1 lead in the third. Murray was outgunned by Fernando Gonzalez in the quarters.

Bring on the grass.