THEY booed him on to the centre court and then, a swift but miserable 58 minutes later, they booed him off again and, in truth, it was not hard to see why the well-heeled and the well-oiled patrons of the Monte Carlo Country Club were not best pleased with Andy Murray.
The world No 2 had a stinker of a day yesterday in the sunshine of the French Riviera.
After Wednesday’s impressive opening win, the Scot looked to be as happy as a clam in the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters but taking on Stanislas Wawrinka, the world No 17 and a man who has two clay court titles to his name, was a different matter entirely. And, when Murray was having one of those days when absolutely nothing was working, he was never going to stand a chance. Wawrinka walloped him 6-1, 6-2.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” Murray said. “Just looked at the stats on the way up the stairs. 24 unforced errors is far too many. That’s a set’s worth. That’s where half the points went.
“He served well. He won some points from there. Yeah, when I started making a lot of errors, I started hitting the ball shorter, then he was able to dictate all of the points from there. When you do that on clay, when you make a lot of unforced errors, your response to it is to take your foot off the gas on the shots. If you don’t give any power or spin on the ball, it’s easy for your opponent to dictate the point.”
Murray has had some real horror shows on clay in the past but this year he had reason to think that it might be different. He had geared his training towards playing on the slower surface, he had worked hard and practised long but it did not seem to make a scrap of difference. Once the first two games of the match were over – 15 points of clean hitting and aggressive rallies from both men – Murray started to rack up the errors and Wawrinka took the match by the scruff of the neck. In the second set, the Swiss dropped just two points on serve. Just to rub salt into his wounds, Murray knew that the defeat had cost him his No 2 slot in the world rankings. He needed to reach the quarter-finals to keep his nose in front of Roger Federer but, even so, the Scot has the chance to reclaim his place when the tour moves on to Spain for the Mutua Madrid Open in a couple of weeks. Murray has no points to defend there (he did not play last year due to a back problem) while Federer has a title and 1,000 ranking points on the line.
The ranking, though, is the least of Murray’s worries. He will stay in Monaco for another week before going home for a few days and then heading to Madrid. He wants to get to Spain in plenty of time to acclimatise to the conditions – Madrid is 650m above sea level which makes it completely different to any of the other European clay court events. But, most of all, Murray just wants to sort out his game and eradicate the careless errors.
“I need to make sure I get good practice in, that’s for sure, over the next two weeks,” he said. “We’ll have to wait and see what happens when Madrid comes round. I’ve played a lot of matches this year, obviously, just not on the clay. So it shouldn’t be necessarily the match play. The issue is certain things I need to iron out in my game, things I need to work on.
“It’s tough to say why I made so many mistakes because yesterday I wasn’t making them. Sometimes you’re not quite feeling the ball. Today was one of those days. No one wants to lose matches like that. But hopefully I can use it as motivation to improve because I need to do a lot of work over the next two weeks to get myself ready for Madrid.”
The problem is that Murray can practise as hard as he likes – and with coach Ivan Lendl overseeing every session, he will be working hard – but nothing compares to match play. Clay is the Scot’s weakest surface because he does not often get the chance to play on it and the only way he can improve and feel at home is to play matches. Taking a hiding in only his second match of the clay court season did not help matters at all.
“I need matches against top players to see what’s going wrong and what’s going right, things I need to work on to get better,” said Murray. “I think, on this surface especially, that’s something that’s important for me, making sure I dig in for every single point.”