It was always going to be a tricky prospect for top seed and World No. 1 Andy Murray, playing the phenomenally unpredictable Fabio Fognini in the Coliseum-like Campo Centrale.
Not surprisingly, every point won by Fognini was met with a Roman roar and while usually playing in front of a partisan crowd usually fires Murray up to fight them all, once more he was unable to ignite the spark that took him to the World No. 1 sport at the end of last season.
In his loss against Borna Coric last week in Madrid, Murray said he felt as though nothing worked, but acknowledged that this time around some things had improved but there was still a long way to go.
He said, after the match: “I’m sure there were a lot of things I could have done better. Obviously he started the match extremely well, for sure, and then mid to end part of the second set, there were a few opportunities there.
“He was taking the ball early, you know, hitting the ball close to the lines and dominating most of the points. And then second set, towards the end he starts making a few more mistakes. I was getting into it a little bit, but I wasn’t doing enough – I wasn’t creating enough chances on my own. The only chance I really got was when he was making errors.”
Murray’s results since gaining the No. 1 ranking
The flurry of ‘weakest No. 1’ has been swirling around ever since the start of the year. After a monumental effort to catch a struggling Novak Djokovic at the end of the year, there were high expectations 2016 would be Murray’s year to finally tuck away a couple of the big titles that had eluded him.
Doha – Final
Australian Open – R4
Dubai – Title
Indian Wells – R2
Miami – Missed through injury
Monte Carlo – R3
Barcelona – SF
Madrid – R3
Rome – R2
Despite starting the season with a final, he was stunned before the second week of the Australian Open with a loss to some old school serve and volley tactics from Mischa Zverev, and aside from wining in Dubai, his clay court season has been nothing like the consistency he has shown on the surface in the last two years.
That being said, he felt he did not have any additional pressure on his shoulders being No. 1 despite constantly being asked about it as a reason for his slump in form.
“I personally don’t think it has anything to do with it, but I get asked about it every week. I don’t know how I’m supposed to continue answering the question.
“For me, it’s no excuse. I have been in the top few positions in the ranking for literally ten years, and I felt like maybe if it happened when I was younger that it might not be something I would be able to deal with as well, but it certainly is not something that I’m thinking about, the four weeks or even when I have been struggling.
“Also, at the beginning of the year I played fine. The first three events, you know, maybe weren’t perfect, but had a final, a win, tough loss in Australia, but I just feel like I’m not playing well.”
‘I need to turn it around quick’
It is one thing to be struggling with injuries but another to know that things need to change, but seemingly not being in a position to fix it.
“I’m just not playing well, and I don’t think it’s to do with my ranking. I mean, the last couple of weeks have been tough and I haven’t played well.
“Indian Wells and maybe like Monte-Carlo, you know, the injury and stuff was more understandable. But the last few weeks, there is no reason for it from my end. I’m just not playing good tennis, and I need to try and work out how to turn that around.
“I believe I will. And I need ideally quickly, because there are some pretty important tournaments coming up. You know, I still feel like I can do really well in those events. I need to turn it around quick.”
Movement – or lack thereof
The issue in Tuesday night’s match was his movement – which is a cornerstone of his game. Even allowing for the fact that one of the historically fittest men on the tour has just hit the bif ‘3-0,’ the fact that he was not getting to balls on Tuesday night stung him deeply in his tactics.
He told reporters: “Definitely movement the last two weeks has not been good. I felt like I moved decent in the beginning of the year I was moving well. I moved pretty well in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, but the last two weeks I haven’t moved well.
“You know, Fabio did play some good dropshots, but like you say, I wasn’t actually making a move or a step towards the ball. That’s not a good sign, so that’s something, like I said, the last two years on the clay, that’s been a huge improvement for me. My movement has been a big help last couple of years, but certainly the last couple of weeks that’s been a problem. So I need to address that.”
Much was made of coach Ivan Lendl being flown in to rescue the situation, but in actual fact it had always been the plan to come in after Rome and prior to Paris to help him prepare.
“There was some stuff after I finished in Madrid saying, like, something had changed with my schedule or with Ivan’s schedule. Total nonsense. The plan was for Ivan to come over Sunday. He was going to fly in to London and we were going to travel to Paris together either on the Monday or the Tuesday.”
Interestingly though, Murray went on to explain that if the French Open does not go so well, Lendl would take a bit of a break before returning for the start of the grass court season – Murray is defending titles at Queens and Wimbledon.
“Obviously, depending on how I get on in Paris, hopefully it goes well, you know, he will be there for the majority of the grass court season. Obviously if it goes badly, then maybe he goes home after the French for a bit.
“I would think fly home tomorrow morning and then spend a couple of days at home and get to Paris early to, you know, get myself the best chance to get used to the conditions there and prepare as well as I can.”
There are a lot of the same things Murray is saying since the Madrid loss, and it is good he recognises that something needs to be fixes, and smartly. The question is can the gap between the French Open and the grass court season be enough to turn things around? We know he loves being seen as the under-dog more than the expected winner – let us hope it is enough to help when the French Open rolls around.
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