After suffering a surprise third-round defeat in Monte Carlo on Thursday, Andy Murray found himself mulling over his clay-court schedule for the next fortnight. With less than six weeks until the French Open, he badly needs to re-establish his form.
Murray’s lack of match time in recent weeks was all too evident on Thursday as he went down to 15th seed Albert Ramos-Viñolas in an error-strewn match. In the sort of dramatic turnaround he is more used to inflicting on others, he threw away a 4-0 third-set lead to be eliminated 2-6, 6-2, 7-5.
Now, as tournaments such as Budapest and Estoril jostle for Murray’s attention – the former has offered a hefty financial guarantee, while the latter posted a personalised invitation on social media on Thursday – he is looking for the deep run that could reboot his stop-start season.
Next week, the main attraction for the leading players is in Barcelona, where 500 rankings points are at stake for the winner. But Murray has already suggested that the smaller 250-point event in Budapest might give him a better chance to build up time on court.
It is also possible, however, that Murray could simply settle for a training block on the clay courts at Queen’s Club in west London. He said on Thursday that he would like to be in London at the weekend for the marathon. His father-in-law, Nigel Sears, will be among the runners.
The world No 1 has been plagued by illness and injury all year, contracting shingles after the Australian Open and then developing a tear in his right elbow last month. The condition prevented him from practising his serve until a few days ago, and this was clearly a factor as Ramos-Viñolas broke him seven times in Thursday’s match.
“I’m disappointed to lose from the position that I was in,” said Murray afterwards. “Being 4-0 up in the third, I haven’t lost many matches like that in my career.”
What a contrast to Murray’s equivalent match in the third round of Monte Carlo last year. Then, he was in trouble against Benoît Paire, who served for a straight-sets victory only to suffer a mini-meltdown and throw his advantage away.
The let-off allowed Murray to rediscover his form with a crushing victory over Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals. And the momentum he built up in Monte Carlo put him on the road towards the best clay-court season of his career, including a first title in Rome and a runner-up finish at the French Open. Now he will be looking for a similar reversal of fortunes over the next fortnight.
Speaking to Sky Sports after Thursday’s match, Murray emphasised that his physical condition was improving. “If I’d been offered this result a week, 10 days ago, I would’ve taken it,” he said: “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play here or not. I’m going to need to put some work in, there are some things I need to improve upon. But it wasn’t too bad.”
Meanwhile, Victoria Azarenka sent a message of congratulations to Serena Williams, whose pregnancy was officially confirmed on Wednesday night. “I’m really, really happy for her,” said Azarenka, whose own son Leo was born in December. “I’m so happy from one woman to another woman. I’m super happy that her personal life is so stable right now and I hope she is going to come back and play again because I’ll miss her to death.”
Azarenka is understood to have targeted the grass-court season for her likely return, while the Women’s Tennis Association suggested on Thursday that Williams intends to skip the rest of 2017 before returning to the tour next year.
Finally, in the Black Sea resort of Constanta, the British Fed Cup team continued their preparations for Saturday’s World Group play-off against Romania, although wintry conditions on Thursday – which included flurries of snow – forced them to practise indoors rather than on the outdoor clay court that has been prepared for the tie.
“We are going to have a stadium that is going to be packed and mostly against us,” said British captain Anne Keothavong. “You don’t get to experience that on a week-to-week basis so it’s motivating.”