Murray is ousted from the French Open

ANDY Murray's French Open challenge came to a sudden halt this afternoon when he ran into one of the rising stars of clay court tennis at Roland Garros.

The British number one, who had looked to be conquering the red dust surface he dislikes most, slumped to a 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 7-5 defeat in the third round against Nicolas Almagro of Spain.

Murray made the worst possible start to the match, falling 3-6 to Almagro. Using a series of savage forehands Almagro served out to take the set when Murray netted a tame forehand.

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Murray, the 10th seed, was beginning to counter Almagro's heavy hitting with some fine tennis of his own and it took two consecutive aces and some desperate shot-making from the Spaniard to save three break points in the fourth game of the second set. That was the measure of the task for Murray who fought his way back from love-40 down in the ninth game with two wonderful volleys to stay in the set which went to a tie-break. Two timely aces saw Murray take control and a forehand cross court winner wrapped up the breaker 7-3 for Murray to win the set 7-6.

Murray took the initiative in the third set when he broke Almagro in the third game, the Spaniard struggling with a tricky lob and putting his response amid the tramlines. It was an even contest, however, with both men playing fine tennis and in the sixth game. Almagro broke back, this time his precise lob doing the damage. Suddenly the momentum was swinging the Spaniard's way and he broke serve again in the eighth game, courtesy of a couple of Murray volleys which were dumped into the net. Almagro duly served out to take the set 6-3 and take control of the match.

The fourth set began disappointingly with Murray losing his service in the first game, courtesy of his own wild forehand and some nice groundstrokes from Almagro. The Spaniard was in the ascendancy and Murray had to battle back from love-40 in the seventh game with two nicely made volley winners which he picked off his shoe laces. But the big serves of Almagro were earning him easy points while Murray was continually struggling on his own delivery.

It looked all over when Almagro served for the match in the 10th game but somehow Murray contrived to break back, letting out a huge roar of 'C'mon'. Murray was playing with great guts but promptly dropped his next service game when he dumped another forehand into the net. This time Almagro made no mistake wrapping up a deserved victory.

Almagro has won clay-court titles in Brazil and Mexico this year, beating Carlos Moya and David Nalbandian in the finals.

Murray can now head for grass and the friendlier surface and raised expectations of Wimbledon.