Andy Murray has had a brief clay court season so far, winning five matches (one by walkover), losing four, and failing to defend his Rome title. It is not how he would have wanted it and is in stark contrast to this time last year when the Scot was excelling on the surface, winning in Italy and reaching the final of the French Open.
Murray concedes he is “not playing good tennis”, the latest setback coming on Tuesday when the world No 1 was ousted 6-2, 6-4 by home favourite Fabio Fognini in his first outing in the Italian capital, less than a week after losing to Borna Coric in Madrid.
It was his seventh loss of a disappointing year, a stat he did not register in 2016 until August, and he looks a far cry from the player that won five successive tournaments at the end of last season to climb to the top of the rankings.
Murray, who turned 30 on Monday, will now return home before linking up with coach Ivan Lendl next week ahead of the French Open, which starts later this month.
The role of Lendl, pictured, is now key to his pupil’s summer form.
“Depending on how I get on in Paris – hopefully it goes well – he will be there for the majority of the grass-court season,” Murray said.
The action begins at Roland Garros a week on Sunday and finishes on 11 June. Murray will then switch to grass to defend his Aegon Championship title at Queen’s Club from 19-25 June before Wimbledon begins on 3 July, with the Scot bidding to retain the trophy he won last year by defeating Milos Raonic in straight sets in the final.
A big improvement is required, as Murray himself acknowledged.
“I am just not playing well,” he said following the loss to Fognini. “I mean, the last couple of weeks, they have been tough and I haven’t played well. I am just not playing good tennis and I need to try and work out how to turn that around.”
In terms of the encounter with Fognini, this was a tough draw for Murray, coming up against an inspired opponent, who beat the Scot in the Davis Cup previously and also took a set off Rafael Nadal in Madrid last week.
Fognini brought his A-game in front of a partisan home crowd, peppering Murray with forehand and drop shot winners to set up a memorable win.
He did not face much resistance on the other side of the net, though, with Murray regularly leaving short balls in the centre of the court that had Fognini licking his lips.
“I am sure there were a lot of things I could have done better,” the Scot added. “Obviously he started the match extremely well and then mid-to-end part of the second set, there were a few opportunities there.
“But he was taking the ball early, hitting the ball close to the lines and dominating most of the points.
“Normally during matches your opponent might give you a few opportunities with some errors, and obviously you hope to create a few yourself. That certainly wasn’t the case.
“The only chance I really got was when he was making errors.”