Even Novak Djokovic was surprised with just how poorly Andy Murray played yesterday. He had come prepared for battle, only to discover that reaching the final of the BNP Paribas Open was as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
The world No.1 dismissed Murray 6-2, 6-3 as a school teacher would dismiss an errant schoolboy. Presumably Amelie Mauresmo will be supervising Murray’s homework next week as he prepares for the Miami Open – he failed this test against the locker room swot, and failed it miserably. He cannot afford to let such matches become a habit.
Quite why Murray’s form evaporated is a mystery. Throughout the week, he had been pleased with the way he has handled the conditions and the way he has found a balance between patience and aggression in every match. The thin, dry desert air makes the balls fizz and fly and the combination of the slow courts and the unpredictable balls make some matches a lottery but Murray had never been in any danger of losing until yesterday. Sure enough, as he was forced to hit shots from around his earlobes, Murray grumbled and growled and complained to his team at the side of the court.
As Djokovic eased into the lead and trotted away with the first set – he hardly had to break a sweat – Murray was complaining that he had not played at this time of day before, that he was not used to the temperature, the bounce of the ball, the direction of the breeze. If he could have complained about the particular shade of blue in the sky, he would have. His team looked on impassively. They knew – as Murray knew – that he was being thumped by the better player.
“I didn’t start either of the sets well,” Murray said. “That obviously makes things difficult against the best players. Novak didn’t give me any free points at the beginning of either of the sets, and I made a few too many errors early on. Then, in the end of both sets, middle of both sets, I started to play a bit better and made it tougher and was able to push him a bit, but not enough at the beginning of the sets to make it challenging enough for him.
“He didn’t make any errors. I didn’t serve so well today compared to how I served for the rest of the tournament. I mean, I served I think in the mid‑60s, percentage‑wise, and today I was around 50 per cent. And the first set, again, no free points on my first serve.
“That would have been the difference between the matches that I played so far at this tournament and today is that I didn’t serve as well.”
Djokovic broke Murray’s first service game and immediately took the match by the scruff of the neck. Spotting that his old foe was far from his best, he just took care of business at his end of the court and waited for Murray to do the rest. And though the Scot tried to make a fight of it, he was being outplayed at every turn.
When, finally, Murray managed to secure a break of serve, the crowd woke up. They desperately wanted to see one of the usual Murray-Djokovic marathons but all they were seeing was a protracted hitting session – there was no fire, no intensity and, in Murray’s case, very little by way of hope. He was having a lousy day and Djokovic was making the most of it. The second set offered no respite. Sure enough, Murray manufactured a couple of break points towards the end of the set but Djokovic snatched them away again.
“In the second set I had a bit of a chance in that middle part, couple break points, and he hit two serves pretty much on to the line to get himself out of it,” Murray said. “Then that was it.”
There will be another chance to test Djokovic soon – possibly next week at the Miami Open. Until then, Murray will be doing his homework to make sure that days like yesterday do not happen again.
In yesterday’s second semi-final, Roger Federer beat Rafael Nadal’s quarter-final conqueror, Canadian Milos Raonic, 7-5, 6-4.