THE holiday is cancelled. The successes of the past couple of months are forgotten. Andy Murray is heading for the practice courts and seven weeks of hard graft after he was unceremoniously dumped out of the ATP World Tour Finals by Roger Federer 6-0, 6-1 last night.
Just a few days ago, Murray was thinking that he was almost back up with the big boys. After his 56-minute thrashing last night, in which he just avoided a 6-0, 6-0 “double bagel” by winning his last service game, he had been brought to earth with an almighty bump.
“It was a tough night,” Murray said. “I’ve lost slam finals and stuff, which has been very tough. But in terms of the way the match went, it was not ideal from my side of the court – far from it.
“I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do now but I would normally take a break just now. But I also need time to work on some things in my game and make improvements. So if I was to take a two‑week break just now, that’s 14 days where I can’t work on my game, make any changes in that period. I’ll try to get back on the practice court probably sooner than I would have done.”
It was only the tenth time in Murray’s professional career that he had dropped a set to love, a career that spans a decade and a list of results that takes in the early days when, as a rookie, he used to be taught a lesson or two on the slow red dirt of the European clay court season. As a member of the top flight, though, he had not been so comprehensively beaten in a set since 2010 when Gael Monfils caught him unawares at the Toronto Masters. But Murray managed to win that encounter in three sets – last night he never stood a chance.
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Only Novak Djokovic had inflicted such a pasting on the Scot before, a 6-1, 6-0 clumping back in 2007 in Miami. Never before or since had anyone come close to making a chump of Murray but, then again, Federer is no ordinary player. And the legend that is Federer in pursuit of the year-end No 1 ranking and his seventh Tour Finals crown is a foe like no other.
For a couple of minutes, Murray was in with a chance; Federer took a few moments to adjust to the atmosphere and dropped his opening two points. Was there an opportunity for a quick break of serve? Alas, no. Federer put his shoulders back, took a deep breath and pushed Murray into an error at the end of a 35-shot rally. And from there, the mighty Swiss never looked back.
Murray won just eight points in the first set and 24 in all. His first serve accuracy was a grim 35 per cent in the first set while Federer won 100 per cent of his first serve points – and that against one of the best returners in the game. Federer served and volleyed, he ran around his backhand to clatter forehand winners with abandon and he wiped Murray off the court.
“I would have obviously hoped to have done a lot better than that,” Murray said. “It wasn’t what I was looking for when I went on the court. In terms of the nature of the match, when he’s extremely loose like he was tonight – he was obviously through in the group – he was able to maybe try some shots that he might not try in other situations. But everything he tried tonight came off. He has the ability to do that.”
Thanks to the round robin format of the tournament, there had been five days of ifs, buts and maybes about who may or may not qualify for the semi-final stage (and there were ten possible outcomes at the start of yesterday’s play – and that was only in Group B). As it turned out, the storyline for the day proved be relatively simple, even if the day did begin with a surprise. The one scenario that no-one had accounted for was someone pulling out of the competition with an injury. When Milos Raonic did just that with a thigh problem, three of the possible outcomes for the day were eliminated. Now we were down to seven. David Ferrer stepped in at the last minute to take Raonic’s place and, with only one match under his belt, he could not qualify, win or lose. And, anyway, he lost 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. As soon as that happened, everything became crystal clear: Murray had to beat Federer in straight sets to stay in the game and top the group. Even a three-set win would have seen the Scot sent home: from hero to zero in the space of half a dozen games. Round robin tennis can be as cruel as it is mathematically challenging. But even that result, frustrating as it would have been, would have been better than what unfolded last night. No matter – Murray will take the memory of his thumping to Miami and the practice courts near his second home. In the tedium of circuit training and gym work, he will use it as motivation to work harder and longer to ensure he never endures another night like last night.
“When I think about what happened, I’ll try to use it,” he said. “I need to use it as whatever: if it’s motivation for the off‑season to make some changes to things. Hopefully next year, if I get the right work done now, I can get myself off to a good start next year. I hope that come Australia I’ll be a much better player.”
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