From Davis Cup hero to not quite zero but certainly a mere shadow of his usual self: Andy Murray crashed out of the BNP Paribas Open last night, beaten in three painful sets by Federico Del Bonis.
The Scot did everything he could possibly think of to stop Del Bonis but after two hours and 46 minutes, he was sent packing 6-4, 4-6, 7-6. He was not as his best but Del Bonis was playing the match of his life.
After his first match, Murray was brutally honest about how he felt: he was only human and trying to lift himself for another, regular tour event was damned difficult after the emotional high of winning the Davis Cup tie last weekend. In order to motivate himself, he needed to give himself a verbal kick in the nether regions. Clearly, he was not expecting much to have changed when he got on court yesterday – he was in a tetchy mood from the outset.
Nothing was to his liking: Del Bonis was taking too long to make his Hawk-Eye challenge requests, the large and imposing spider-cam was distracting him when he went to serve and his team sitting in the players’ box was bearing the brunt of his ire. Or they were until his shoes started to annoy him.
Three games into the match, he was rearranging the position of his chair by the side of the court, telling the ball girl where to stand with the parasol to shade him from the sun and growling at the umpire about something or other. That was when he got to work on his trainers, ripping out the insoles and chuntering towards his box as he did so.
None of it made any difference, though: Del Bonis kept hitting the ball hard and early and clattering winners. This came as something or a surprise as the Argentine had only played five hard court matches this year – and won three of them – preferring instead to head for any clay court event he could find on the calendar.
With a service action that looks as if he has given up halfway through (the ball toss is ridiculously high and the whole motion judders to a halt in mid-action) and a backhand hit with such venom that he appears to be clubbing a rattlesnake within an inch of its life, Del Bonis was a rare old time on the centre court. The swirling breeze did not seem to bother him, the world No 2 was certainly giving him no trouble and he was happily walloping winners to a band playing. Even when it came to serving for the first set, there was not a hint of nerves: he just kept on doing what came naturally.
The longer it went on, the grumpier Murray became. Every missed shot was greeted with a snarl and every Del Bonis winner prompted a running commentary to his box about exactly what was going wrong and where. Alas, Murray could not come up with a way to stop the flow of thunderbolts flying from the Argentine’s racket and his support team were not allowed to offer their thoughts.
The various bits of Murray’s game did not seem to be misfiring too, too badly, it was just that none of the components parts was working with the others. He was just out of sorts and Delbonis was flying high. This was not a good combo, not even for a world No 2 taking on the No 53.
Del Bonis took the early lead, breaking for 2-1 in the first set, but then handed his own service up on a silver platter in the next game. But when broke again for 4-3, he was not nearly so generous; this time he held his lead close to his chest and closed out the set.
Murray’s luck did not appear to be improving – and Del Bonis showed no sign of slowing down – in the second set until the last couple of games. Finally, the Scot was able to screw down his concentration and from saving a break point at 4-4, he broke Del Bonis in the very next game to claim the set. He had left it late but he had escaped defeat by the skin of his teeth.
Life did not get any easier in the third set: from a break up, Murray was hauled back to 4-4, was broken for Del Bonis to lead 6-5, broke back for 6-6 and then headed for the tiebreak. And that was when Murray could not stop Del Bonis from claiming the best win of his career.