It was short and anything but sweet: Andy Murray’s French Open lasted a little over an hour and a half before Stan Wawrinka pointed him in the direction of the Gare du Nord and the Eurostar home yesterday.
It was the Scot’s first trip to Roland Garros in three years. The last match he played there was also against Wawrinka, also on the Court Philippe Chatrier and the Swiss won that one, too.
It was also the last time Murray played with two natural hips in more or less working order. But the five sets that day wrecked his right hip and marked the start of his well-documented medical odyssey that brought him back to Paris last night.
Yet the way he played when he got there was not what anybody had expected to see, particularly not Murray. He was overpowered and overwhelmed by Wawrinka pretty much from first ball until last. Sure enough, the conditions were miserably cold and slow but that was not the reason for his tame 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 defeat.
“I need to have a long, hard think about it,” he said. “I think that’s probably in terms of score line, I might be wrong, but I think that’s the worst defeat maybe of my career in a grand slam.
“I don’t feel like the conditions are an excuse for it. I don’t feel like that’s a valid reason, maybe to not enjoy the matches as much when it’s like that, but not in terms of it shouldn’t affect your performance in any way. I’ll need to have a long, hard think and try and understand what happened.”
Watched by a sprinkling of hypothermic spectators, there was none of the fire and anger that usually goes with a Murray performance. He barely said a word. This, it turns out, was a conscious decision after he had subjected his team to a torrent of criticism and complaints during his two rounds at the US Open. All he did yesterday was play badly for three, grim sets.
“Over in the States, I was getting quite frustrated in my matches,” Murray said. “It was something that was brought up to me and I tried to sort of keep my emotions in check on the court.
“I don’t know whether that affected me in any way or not, but that was probably why it was quieter than usual. I was trying to be a little bit calmer on the court.”
On TV, Mark Petchey concluded that Murray will need to change his game drastically if he is to compete at the very top level again. The only problem is that the former world No 1 (he is now the world No 111) is 33; he has been playing his way for a lifetime. Murray is more of the opinion that he simply needs to play much, much better than he did last night.
“To totally change the way you play the game is hard,” he said. “When I played my best tennis, that’s being an offensive baseliner, and that’s what I need to make sure I am doing. But like tonight, if you serve at 38 per cent and you mistime a bunch of second-serve returns, it’s hard to play that way. I need to play better to allow me to play the right way, I think.”
And with that, it was time to go home. He will play as many tournaments as he can before the season ends, starting with the spectacularly named bett1HULKS Indoors in Cologne which starts in two weeks’ time. And as he left Paris, he promised one thing: “I reckon I won’t play a match like that between now and the end of the year.”
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