Washington, DC: July 29 - August 5

August 6, 2006 05:23 PM

Arnaud Clement poses with the trophy after defeating Andy Murray in the final of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic© Jamie Squire/Getty Images
WASHINGTON (AP) -- There were plenty of reasons for Arnaud Clement to lose to Andy Murray on Sunday: a much slower top serve (134 mph to 122 mph), fewer aces (9-1) and fewer total winners (22-20).

Plus, Murray was trying to impress his new coach, Brad Gilbert, former mentor to Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick.

If Clement's play was less spectacular, it was far steadier, especially once Murray developed two blisters on his racket hand. Clement erased an early deficit and put together a 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic final for his second title of 2006.

The 11th-seeded Frenchman mainly worked to extend points, keeping the ball in play until No. 8 Murray erred. And Murray made repeated mistakes, finishing with 31 unforced errors to Clement's 20, often looking at his painful right hand after flubbing shots.

"He missed too much,'' said Clement, who won 14 of 16 points during a stretch in the second set to take complete command.

Murray, at his first tournament with Gilbert, said one blister broke open during the first set, probably because he was sweating so much with the temperature in the 90s. Murray winced as a trainer treated a blister on his right middle finger after the second game of the second set, during Clement's run to a 4-0 lead.

"You can still play, but it's just not very comfortable,'' Murray said. "You try not to think about it. It's just a little bit of a distraction.''

He said he'd never had a hand blister before, and he didn't want to tape them, because he's not used to playing with his fingers wrapped.

"It doesn't matter who you are -- it's a problem,'' Gilbert said.

Neither Gilbert nor Murray blamed the setback on the blisters, crediting Clement with turning things around after falling behind 3-1 in the first set. Murray was somewhat his own undoing, though, double-faulting twice and missing a forehand wide to allow Clement to break to 3-3.

"After that,'' Gilbert said, "Clement outplayed him.''

Clement didn't drop a set all week at this hard-court tuneup for the U.S. Open, the year's last Grand Slam tournament, which begins Aug. 28. He beat 21st-ranked Dominik Hrbaty and former No. 1s Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin on his way to the final.

"For sure, it's one of my best weeks ever,'' said Clement, who earned $74,250 for his fourth career tour title and first outside of France. "I beat a lot of very good players and it gives me a lot of confidence.''

He hadn't reached a final since winning the title at Marseille in February.

Clement once was ranked in the top 10, after reaching his only major final at the 2001 Australian Open, but poor results and a leg injury this spring dropped him to No. 57 entering this event. The title will push him into the 40s in the rankings, while even with his defeat, Murray will move to a career-best 31st.

"It was disappointing today. I'm sure it was disappointing for Andy. But hopefully it won't linger,'' Gilbert said. "He's a great kid, he's a really smart thinker on the court, he's very talented and he can get a lot better.''

The 19-year-old Murray, playing in his third career tour final, broke Clement's serve in the match's opening game -- something Clement said was because of jitters.

But there was a later stretch of three consecutive breaks of serve, leading to the tiebreaker, where the score reached 3-all. Clement then reeled off four points in a row, capping the set with a long run to reach a drop shot and whip a forehand passing winner at a perfect angle.

"It was not so tough to touch the ball,'' Clement said, "but it was tough to do a winner.''

Murray put it simply: "He hit an unbelievable shot.''

Clement had to overcome one final blip, facing two break points while serving for the match at 5-2. He erased both, earned a match point with his only ace, then won when Murray sailed a backhand wide.

"He doesn't make too many mistakes, he has a lot of experience -- much more than me -- so maybe he handled the situation a bit better,'' Murray said. "I just made a few too many mistakes, which I'll definitely learn from.''​