Little blip, but no crisis for Andy Murray

SO ANDY Murray has lost another tennis match. That is three now, on the bounce. Surely such a run of defeats and disappointments must prove that the poor boy's career is in crisis.

To hear the wailing and the gnashing of teeth following Murray's loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters last week, anyone would have thought that Scotland's finest had given up the sport entirely and retired to a darkened room to practise his Tim Henman impressions.

The simple fact was that Murray played like a plank – and was the first to admit it. "Rubbish," he kept saying afterwards as he explained what happened. "I was just rubbish. I played a rubbish match. I didn't play well, and that was it." That the match was on clay had nothing to do with result, although the slow red dirt is Murray's weakest surface, but that it came at the end of a miserable two months for the Scot started the alarm bells ringing.

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In the five years that Murray has been on the professional tour, his career path has been moving ever upwards. Unlike many rookies who make a big splash in their first season, Murray did not suffer from a dip in his second year. Instead, he consolidated his ranking position and then kicked on to the next level and now he is an established part of the elite. The last time he lost three matches in a row, he was still a 19-year old in his first full season on the circuit so this current spell of poor form is something of a surprise.

This marks the first real test for both Murray and his team. Since he assembled his gang of experts and advisors, he has barely taken a backward step. Within nine months of Team Murray being formed, he had reached his first grand slam final at the 2008 US Open and barring a few weeks off last year due to tendonitis in his wrist, he has moved onwards and upwards month by month.

Everyone in the team has his job to do, from fitness trainer to coach, from physiotherapist to PR manager, but, as yet, no one has been appointed as crisis manager. That appears to be a job that Murray has taken upon himself.

"Sometimes, with things like this, you have to solve them yourself," he said. "It's not really like a team sport. The guys have been practising hard; we worked on all the right things and trained well. It's totally my fault that I played like that in the match. I need to solve that. I just need to play better."

The effect of losing the Australian Open final to Roger Federer was plain for all to see. As he tearfully made his runner's up speech, it was clear that the defeat was more than he could bear. He had planned his challenge perfectly and was in the form of his life – and then Federer raised his game another couple of notches and ran away with the trophy. The wounds took time to heal.

But at the same time, Murray has become embroiled in a number of off-court issues. He was publicly criticised by the Marseilles tournament for pulling out – even though he was fit to play that week – and by the Dubai tournament for not trying hard enough.

In the Middle East, he fought and scrapped for three long and gruelling sets against Janko Tipsarevic before losing. He said afterwards that he had used the encounter to try out a few new tactics and strategies, but that admission merely enraged the sponsors. They accused him of using their tournament as a practise session.

That, though, was as nothing compared to the Lawn Tennis Association's breast-beating over the Davis Cup loss last month. Although Murray had not played in the tie against Lithuania, he was regarded as some sort of oracle and was expected to offer wisdom and guidance of what the LTA should do next.

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His views on the team, the result, the players and the captain were sought, analysed and discussed as if he, a 22-year-old player trying to concentrate on his own career, could, single-handedly, save the whole of British tennis.

Such distractions did not help Murray's cause. A meticulous planner, he needs everything to be in its proper place so that he can focus all his energies on his tennis and, in the past, his form has always dipped when he has been dealing with off-court problems.

When he prepared to sever his coaching ties with both Mark Petchey and Brad Gilbert, the effect on his game was marked and swift. Even when he was coming back from a serious wrist injury in 2007, it took him weeks to rid himself of the fear of injuring himself again and, consequently, he did not play freely until his mind was settled. That was when he decided to fire Gilbert and, again, his form fluctuated until the split was announced.

But now the Davis Cup issues have been resolved: Britain has a new team captain and, in theory, Murray can be left in peace.

Last week, he and his team drove from Monaco to Barcelona for a week of hard graft on the practice courts with Miles Maclagan and Alex Corretja. That should iron out the technical kinks in his clay court game while a week out of the limelight ought to give him time to clear his head of any distractions. And a couple of wins in the next few weeks will reduce the past couple of months to a distant memory. Crisis? What crisis?