Authors: Rio Sports
Andy Murray’s inexplicable profligacy in sight of the finish line wrecked what was shaping as a satisfactory comeback from injury, not to mention his preparations for the French Open, when he gifted the Spaniard Albert Ramos-Viñolas his first quarter-final place in an ATP 1000 Masters event here on Thursday.
Murray blew two match points for a 5-1 lead in the third set of a match he might have wrapped up an hour earlier and he left the glorious seaside setting of Court Rainier III in the sort of hurry familiar to all great players who know they have miscalculated badly.
It is the first time since he lost to Rafael Nadal in a semi-final here six years ago that Murray has been broken seven times in a three-setter, a statistic he will not want to dwell on before heading for either Barcelona or Budapest next week, probably the latter.
Frustrated by his serve, which remains worryingly underpowered after the latest of his elbow problems, Murray could not find enough magic to overpower the 29-year-old Spaniard, who was well worth his 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 victory, the biggest of his career and his first over a world No 1.
Murray’s reign at the top of the rankings is not under immediate threat but he will have get some points on the board soon to hold off the charge of those closing in on him if he is to still be No1 when he defends his title at Wimbledon in June.
Murray had warned beforehand, “Ramos has played a lot of tennis this year, most weeks, and he’s always tough to play against. I have practised with him quite a bit, a lefty, competes hard. I need to be ready for a big fight because he doesn’t give anything away for free.”
How right he was and how wrong he was in key moments of the match, after an encouraging first set.
Having ground his way through two breaks of service to take the opener in style, Murray saved one set point in the second with an unreachable crosscourt forehand but lobbed wide to hand the frame to the Spaniard, whose diligence in cutting his unforced errors to only four earned him a third set and the chance of an improbable victory.
Some of Murray’s winners in the first four games of the deciding frame were breathtaking, even though he might have made life easier for himself in only his second match on clay this year – and his opponent’s 19th. Then the whole tone of the match changed in a twinkling. Murray was running away with it before allowing Ramos-Viñolas a couple of unearned chances to get back to four-all. “Come on! Come on! I don’t know how to play!” he screamed at himself on one changeover.
He had to save three break points in the ninth game and busted a string at 4-5, 0-30 on his opponent’s next serve before twice clawing his way to deuce. Ramos-Viñolas held for five-all and broke for a seventh time when Murray hit a regulation forehand long.
He struck wide to present his opponent with his first match point after two-and-a-half hours, but hung on for deuce. He grabbed another chance when he caught Murray cold on the baseline with a smash, and was decidedly relieved and elated when Murray’s final drop shot clipped the net and fell back towards him.
The odds are Murray will withdraw from Barcelona and opt for the easier challenge of Budapest, a new tournament where he will be able to regroup with less pressure. He said beforehand he was keeping his options open to see how his game held up after more than a month away, after losing early in Indian Wells.
“That’s the main reason for me playing [in Budapest], if I don’t feel like I’ve got enough matches or don’t feel like I’ve played well enough or that I just fancy playing next week.”
This was such a mixture of a performance, however, and, while he will take away plenty to be happy about, he ought to be concerned he lost composure against an opponent he respected but surely did not fear.
While they had never played each other outside the practice court, Ramos-Viñolas did not bring the sort of big weapons that should have threatened a player 23 places ahead of him in the rankings. He hit not a single ace, and absorbed six from Murray, but was grateful for the Scot’s waywardness when his cause looked least promising. Murray had 12 chances to break and took six of them; Ramos-Viñolas converted seven from 14.
Sport at this level is all about seizing the momentum and Murray let too many opportunities pass by. There is a perception, supported by evidence, that the best players can idle against lesser opponents in the early stages of most tournaments and still prevail. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic came through their lapses in the first round. This was not one of those days for Murray.