Andy Murray’s third round exit to Borna Coric at the Mutua Madrid Open confirmed that the world number one’s miserable 2017 on the court continues.
The Scottish star fell 6-3, 6-3 to the 20-year-old world No 59 from Croatia on Thursday. But what was perhaps more troubling was the manner in which he exited the tournament, the 29-year-old admitting that it wasn’t until the last game when he tried to counter his opponent.
Murray has played in seven tournaments this year, winning one, the Dubai Tennis Championships, plus reaching a final and semi-final. Many players would look at that as a success, but not somebody with the ambition of Murray.
As well as that, his form and standard of tennis has not reached the heights he sets himself.
Here are five reasons behind Murray’s loss of form:
Murray did wonders to reach the apex of tennis, world number one. He exerted an abundance of energy, physically and mentally, to achieve the goal. The figures and achievements are really quite breathtaking.
From 17 tournaments he reached 13 finals, winning nine ATP tour titles. Not only was the latter a career high but an ATP best. Throw in Davis Cup matches and a win at the Olympics in Brazil and it was a draining schedule.
The schedule went into overdrive at the tail end of the year. Between the October 3 and November 11 Murray played in five ATP tour events, winning them all. Twenty five matches, hundreds of sets. That month he finally became world number one completing a journey that started in Dunblane over two decades ago.
It is understandable, after such exertion at such an elite level there is a drop-off. It may be a case of him having to go along in neutral for a wee while before he can go back up the gears and rediscover his A-game, his edge, his mental resilience.
An injured serve
It is no secret that Murray is struggling with an elbow injury. His 2017 has been beset by injuries with the elbow problem preceded by a bout of shingles.
The injury issue may well have been caused by the gruelling end to 2016, and the biggest affect it’s had is on the player’s service game.
It has never been the strongest facet of Murray’s game. It can be a case of peaks and troughs, spells where it is highly effective followed by an unevenness. It is an inconsistency which he has largely dealt with. In his defeat to Coric his second serve was also below par.
Yet, this year the problem has been exacerbated by the injury and become more noticeable. He’s been unable to pick up enough cheap points off his first serve. This can only give his opponents a boost.
The high standard of tennis
Of course, the situation is not solely at the feet of Murray. There is a high-calibre of player in the field at this current time.
With a lead of more than 4,000 points over Novak Djokovic at the top of the rankings, Murray can be safe in the knowledge that he will be sitting at the summit of tennis for some time. But there is no doubting the quality and ferocity of the supporting cast.
The aforementioned Djokovic has suffered a similar drop-off to Murray but it is expected to me no more than a blip, while Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are enjoying a renaissance. Despite being one of the elder statesman of the tennis circuit Stan Wawrinka is like a fine wine, getting better with age, with Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios inconsistent but talented.
Murray has also witnessed first-hand at the potential of Dominic Thiem and there is another promising talent in Alex Zverev Jr.
It just shows the depth currently in the tennis circuit. Anyone in the top 100 is capable of not just causing the cream of the crop problems but winning when it matters.
The age factor
Andy Murray turns 30 on Monday. For any professional athlete it is a significant milestone. They are instantly tagged with veteran status. Any injury is treated with further suspicion, while a poor spell of form becomes a crisis just because the athlete has entered their fourth decade.
The age factor can be overblown, after all they have got to this stage because of not only their quality, but their ability to improve and adapt, to move with any changes and advancements, picking up both professional and life experience as they go. Age can help improve shot selection, game management, as well as temperament and attitude.
However, there is, of course, something in age, it just happens 30 is a key staging point. It takes the body longer to recover to the point where recovery training becomes as important as technical training.
Murray has been a consummate professional training in terms of diet, fitness and working and improving on all aspects of his game. You could even make the argument he is too devoted to getting better.
Another aspect that is often overlooked by fans is family matters. Murray has a young family, the demands of which can play its part in fatigue, but one which is more important than winning or sport in general.
It is likely Murray will be working with his coaches to come up with a suitable training programme.
The clay surface
The last four tournaments have all been played on clay. Murray has recorded two third-round exits, a second-round exit and a semi-final defeat. It’s not, and never has been, his strongest surface.
Despite growing up and developing his game on the red stuff in Barcelona, Murray has always been far more comfortable on grass and the hard court. His more methodical and strategic game is far more suited to grass.
His next two tournaments both take place on clay, the ATP event in Rome before the French Open. It will take a monumental shift in momentum for Murray to get that illusive win at Roland Garros.