THERE are few people harder on Andy Murray when he plays like a plum than Murray himself – and after yesterday’s dismal defeat at the Mutua Madrid Open, he was harsh.
For 70 minutes, he had flapped about on the centre court, bullied and tormented by Santiago Giraldo, the world No 46 from Colombia, as he fell to a 6-3, 6-2 defeat. Giraldo played well – of that there is no doubt – but Murray was truly awful.
Even when he is not playing well, the Wimbledon champion will usually fight and chase and force himself into some semblance of form. But not yesterday. Against Giraldo, he did not have any idea what to do next as the match and a place in the quarter-finals ran away from him. His performance was poor and his response to the situation on court was simply not good enough – as he was the first to admit.
“I expected a tough match for sure,” Murray said. “I didn’t envisage the match finishing like that. You obviously go into each match believing you can win and looking for a positive outcome. To lose with that scoreline is disappointing. It’s tough to take many positives from a match like that.
“He played very well from start to finish; didn’t make many mistakes. I didn’t make it hard enough for him in the second set. Towards the end, I didn’t put enough pressure on him to force him to make errors. He dictated most of the points and deserved to win.”
When he first came back to the tour after having back surgery, Murray was prepared for some duff results and a few bad days.
But five months into his comeback, his back is fine and physically he is in good shape. What he is missing is Ivan Lendl – the coach who taught him how to win Grand Slam finals. Since Lendl left Team Murray in March, the Scot has been like a rudderless ship and even though he is searching for a replacement, it will take someone special to fill the former champion’s shoes.
“My coach is missing,” he said simply. “That’s quite a big part of my team. But, you know, even when I was working with Ivan, I didn’t necessarily play my best tennis here last year or at certain periods.
“It’s tough, because some days just now I’m playing well, and then the next day I’m not playing well at all. Sometimes in matches I’m playing really well for periods, and then other times not great at all. So I need to become more consistent.
“My best tennis or my sort of base level has to stay the same for a lot longer. It’s not necessarily a case of going out there and practising loads of stuff on the court. I need to be mentally stronger and mentally a bit more switched on for longer periods in matches.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure what the problem is. But, again, I need to sit down and think about that the next couple of days and see what I need to do.”
The only positive thought that Murray can carry with him to the French Open and Wimbledon is that he has always managed to play his best tennis at the Grand Slams. No matter how he has been playing in the lead-in to the major events, there is something about the big stage and the five-set format that brings the best out of him. But even that glimmer of hope was not enough to make up for yesterday’s poor effort.
“I think the problem for me over the last few years has been the tournaments outside of Slams,” Murray explained. “ I just haven’t had that consistency at all, for whatever reason. And then when I’ve got to the Slams I’ve played well pretty much every time.
“I don’t know if it’s a question of confidence or not. I don’t feel like when I’m practising or when I step on the court ... I don’t feel like I’m low on confidence, which I’ve had periods of before in my career. Especially after losing in big tournaments or in Slams I’ve felt like that. But that isn’t really how it feels right now.”
And unless Murray can find a cure for what ails him, he will face a few more harsh debriefing sessions at the Italian Open next week on his way to Roland Garros and SW19.