Of the four top-seeds in the Monte Carlo draw, it was World No 1 Andy Murray who had the (relatively) easiest win in his opening round on Wednesday. The Briton defeated Gilles Muller 7-5, 7-5 after the Luxembourgian left-hander served for the first set at 5-4, picking up an early break.
That Murray was able to come through in straight sets even as he was still on the recovery road from his elbow injury that had sidelined him in Miami and in Britain’s David Cup quarter-finals against France, said a lot about the investment the 29-year-old had made in his preparations to rejoin the sport.
His third round upset at the hands of the 15th seed, and yet another southpaw, Albert Ramos-Vinolas on Thursday has now halted Murray’s return story to the Tour just as abruptly.
A gameplan gone wrong
In a manner of speaking, what transpired in Murray’s pre-quarter-final against Ramos-Vinolas on Thursday was almost the opposite of his second round matchup, wherein the Scotsman led in the match – first by a set and then by a double break in the deciding set – before the Spaniard turned tables on him.
He caught Murray off-guard with suddenly altered tactics of going for angled shots that kept him running side-to-side before repeatedly cutting him off with a winner or by drawing out errors from him, by stepping it up from defence to offence. Appreciative as one can be about Ramos-Vinolas deciding to go all out at such crucial stage of the match, a certain unflattering element also emerges about Murray’s game.
Speaking to the media in his post-match press conference, the observant Murray pointed out, “I am disappointed to lose from the position I was in. It was 7-5 in the third [set]. A week ago, I would have been fine with that. But, sitting here, being 4-0 up in the third [set] – I haven’t lost many matches like that in my career. I had enough chances to win.”
There was no doubt that Murray was mentally tuned into the match right until the final point was played and his Monte Carlo sojourn ended. However, the sudden passivity in his shot-making relinquished his control over the momentum in the match and it was quite unbecoming. Murray’s brutal dismantling – there cannot be any other word for it – in Monte Carlo then, quite inopportunely, also looks like the clock has turned when it comes to playing on his weakest playing arena, with the three biggest tournaments still to follow.
The ranking points conundrum
Each of these three events – Madrid, Rome and the French Open – will have a deeper concentration of players as compared to Monte Carlo which, despite its Masters 1000 status, isn’t a mandatory tournament in the ATP’s circuit of nine Masters tournaments. As such, Murray needs to rethink his tactical strategising, in spite of him perceiving to have a limited success in his two matches in Monte Carlo.
Murray’s need to realign his game further ahead also translates into his ranking points’ total. As the defending semi-finalist in Monte Carlo, Murray had 360 points riding on his results this week. Following his third round exit, he will drop 270 points which, in turn will cut into his overall lead at the top of the ATP rankings. While his decision to play in Monte Carlo was, in a way, prompted by the ranking factor, the margin of points that he lost is still less compared to the 1,600 points he has on stake across the two Masters in Madrid and Rome.
“I need to decide whether I try to get matches or whether I try to get myself in better shape physically, [and] put as much work as I can,” Murray noted on Thursday. He also went on to add, “If I [were to] play [in] Budapest or Barcelona and do well, I would really have a chance to train much between now and the French Open. Whereas, if I weren’t to play next week, I get the chance to put in some hard work, which is maybe what is needed.”
Since then, between wanting to play more and, thus, add more ranking points – even if it is at best 500 points – and to give himself more time to test out his recuperating elbow, Murray has opted to prioritise the former by taking a wild card to play in Barcelona next week.
Irrespective of his decision to tack one more tournament to his schedule, it’s becoming clear that the three-time Major champion doesn’t have all the answers yet to how swiftly his year has changed course. But while the tennis world waits for him to make concrete reparations, Murray’s willingness to keep his options open is indicative of his keenness to straighten out his erratic results this year.