Andy Murray is a man of many talents but one of his greatest strengths is his sheer cussed, dogged and bloody-minded refusal to be bested by anyone.
True enough, he cannot win every match he plays but he will usually bust a gut to try to find a way to win. But not yesterday. Not at the Mutua Madrid Open where he was dismissed by Borna Coric 6-3, 6-3 in the third round.
It was not that Murray did not want to win or that he did not want to try. It is just that when the 20-year-old world No 59 from Croatia started to play, Murray could not work out what to do next.
The Scot’s second serve was letting him down, his forehand was, to put it politely, wayward and when he should have been reverting to Plan B to try and stop his young rival, he discovered that he did not have one.
“It wasn’t until really almost the last game where I said, OK, I’m going to try, and I stood way back behind the baseline,” Murray said.
“I was playing baseline high, slow balls to try to get the ball in the court and make it a little bit different for him. But that wasn’t until it was almost too late really.”
“It was more frustration at my game. The fact that I kept doing the same things, the same mistakes repeatedly, is frustrating.
“I should have tried to do more about that, and I didn’t. That’s the most disappointing thing for me today.”
Never one to make excuses, Murray could blame no one but himself for his puzzling ineptitude yesterday. As is his wont, he gave his support crew and coach, Jamie Delgado, a mouthful as the error count mounted – and sometimes he simply laughed at them – but he knew the fault did not lie with his team. He was playing like a plum and he did not know why.
With so many big tournaments looming on the horizon – the French Open in just over two weeks, Wimbledon in just over seven weeks – Murray is running out of time to find an answer to his problems.
Next week he will play at the Masters 1000 event in Rome, but that will be his last chance to make the necessary adjustments before the stakes are raised.
“I definitely think I need to be concerned about today,” Murray added. “It’s not always the worst thing losing a match, but it’s sometimes the manner of how you lose the match that can be concerning or disappointing.
“Whereas my match against Dominic Thiem in Barcelona [in the semi-finals two weeks ago], I was disappointed to lose, but I felt like I competed really well.
“I did some good stuff in the match, found a way to turn it around and make it, you know, a tough match for him.
“Whereas today I didn’t really do any of that stuff. That’s concerning. So I need to think about exactly why that is, what I can do about it.
“Things can turn around quickly in tennis. But you need to have the right sort of ideas, correct ideas, understand why you’re in the position you’re in. Hopefully, I can do that with my team and play better in Rome and Roland Garros.”
On the evidence of yesterday’s performance, Murray knows that he has a problem – all he needs now is some clue as to where to start looking for the cure. Maybe Rome will provide the answer. If not, the French Open is going to be very hard work indeed.