It was not the confidence-boosting finale to the season that Andy Murray had hoped for nor was it the prime preparation for the Davis Cup final that the Scot had planned – his dismissal from the ATP World Tour Finals at the hands of Stan Wawrinka last night was a confusing end to a fractured week.
His 7-6, 6-4 loss was a blow on many levels. It left him going into the Davis Cup final on the back of two consecutive defeats (he was given a drubbing by Rafael Nadal on Wednesday) and it meant that his position as world No 2 was in jeopardy. If Roger Federer can win the title in London, he will overtake the Scot.
Playing one tournament while thinking about another is not usually a recipe for success and while Murray has done his very best to put the Davis Cup out of his mind, he would not be human if he did not find himself looking forward to his trip to Ghent next week. Even his practice time has been split between the hardcourts this week and the clay courts last week – Murray has been a man caught in two minds from the moment he got to the 02 Arena.
It was not as if the world No 2 was trying to throw the match, either. There were moments of sheer brilliance – a running forehand pass in the early exchanges had the crowd gasping in delight – and there were periods of sheer hard graft as he chased down every ball he could reach and a few more that he could not. Murray was trying all right, it was just that the focus was missing.
Unusually, his support team were not glued to their seats at the side of the court. Instead, they were perched high in the gods, about as far away from their man as it was possible to be. For most of the first set, he did not seem to miss them but then, when his back was to the wall in the tiebreak, he peered into the darkness for a friendly face. But by then it was too late.
Broken in the eighth game, Murray broke straight back. Panic over, or so we thought. He headed for the tiebreak and flexed his muscles – the momentum was with him. And then, out of nowhere, Murray started making errors and Wawrinka ran away with five successive points and the first set.
Things went from bad to worse in the second set as Wawrinka broke in the first game, consolidated that lead with another break in the seventh game and even if he was broken on his first attempt to serve out for the match, Wawrinka held his nerve, repelled one last Murray attack and made his way to the semi-finals. For Murray, it was on to the Davis Cup.