Murray relishes battle with the best
When Andy Murray says he is competing against the two best players of all time, there is no hint of self-pity.
The 23-year-old Briton had not long walked off court following an agonizing three-set loss to top-ranked Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals.
He had hit more winners, more aces, and even won more points, and yet, still, his relentless opponent emerged the victor, winning the deciding third-set tiebreaker.
''Today is the reason why I play tennis,'' said Murray, who lost 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (8). ''It was a great match to finish the year. But I need to improve because I'm competing with the two best players of all time. So if I want to win these tournaments, I want to win the Grand Slams, I need to get better.''
Murray also came up short against Nadal at Wimbledon earlier this year in another close match that demonstrated the Spanish player's uncanny ability to raise his game at the most vital moments.
At the Australian Open in January, Murray got the better of Nadal in the quarterfinals - only to come up against the all-conquering Roger Federer in the final.
Murray's only other Grand Slam final came against Federer in the 2008 U.S. Open, and a straight-set defeat duly followed.
As his search for a maiden Grand Slam title continues, so does Britain's 74-year wait for a men's singles major winner.
Nadal told a packed crowd inside London's O2 Arena on Saturday that they shouldn't ''put pressure on Andy'' because ''he's going to win a lot of Grand Slams, in my opinion.''
Murray insisted that he did not feel any pressure from the crowd, which seemed to share its support equally between the home player and the popular Nadal.
''It's not the British public, I don't think, that puts pressure on me,'' he said. ''The support that I got on the court today meant a lot. I just think it makes a huge difference.''
It didn't turn out to be a big enough difference on Saturday, but Nadal said Murray is getting closer and closer to his big breakthrough.
''He can do everything,'' Nadal said. ''He can attack well. He can volley really well. ... You have to all the time find solutions to play against him and to try to beat him, no? I think he's a great champion.''
And if Murray is hoping that Nadal will just fade away, he isn't showing it.
''I just love playing against him,'' Murray said of Nadal. ''As a sportsman ... I don't know if there's been many better than him ever in terms of the way he conducts himself. I have a lot of respect for him.
''When I play against him, I really, really enjoy it.''