November 20, 2015
Why did “Team Murray” decide to sit in the upper tier, where they couldn’t even be seen by their player? Why was Andy complaining so bitterly between sets? Why did he make thirty unforced errors?
It’s hard to remember a stranger tennis evening, though some might say defeat ultimately suited Murray in the wider context of this momentous fortnight.
With the Davis Cup final in mind, he had trained on clay before the World Tour Finals. Now he has more time to rest and prepare for his priority on that same surface. So why did he go back out after losing to Wawrinka and hit some more on a hard court? A strange evening indeed, in London.
Stan Wawrinka cruised into the semi-finals 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 as the Brit imploded inexplicably. Wawrinka will play his compatriot, the great Roger Federer on Saturday. ‘No problem,’ Stan joked.But he can be confident. Exquisite forehands and backhands had pinged off the racquet of the underdog with delicious Swiss timing.
Stan could hardly believe his luck as he said charitably: ‘It’s always tough to play against Andy, sorry to his fans but it’s going to be amazing to play in the semi-finals. It’s always special to play against Roger.’
Stan the Man wasn’t put under too much pressure by Murray – particularly in the second set, when Andy screamed long and loud in frustration at his failure to ignite, just seconds before being broken for a second time. He managed a mini-fightback to come back from 2-5 down to 4-5.
But it was too little too late – and Murray smashed his racquet in fury as he realised he was facing the first of two match points. Murray was booed by the non-British contingent in the crowd when that happened. He promptly survived the first match point but not the second. The contest was ended by a seemingly halfhearted Murray swipe into the net.
Andy said later: ‘The tie-break was important but I didn’t play well enough, I made far too many errors – including at 5-4. I’ve only got myself to blame.’ He wasn’t wrong.
Failure to reach the weekend’s action does at least mean that Murray will have plenty of time to recharge the batteries and return to clay for one of the biggest events of his life – the Davis Cup Final in Belgium next weekend.
But it also makes his world number two ranking vulnerable, should Roger Federer win these World Tour Finals, and that needn’t have been the case.
Murray was 4-2 up in the tie-break and looked to have the first set in the bag. But two lazy forehands and an even more careless lob meant that Wawrinka took the breaker 7-4.
Even before that strange climax to the opening set, it had been completely unpredictable. Wawrinka took what looked to be a commanding 5-3 lead after breaking Murray with relative ease. The Swiss had led 0-40 and although Murray had clawed one of those break points back, the game soon proved to be a lost cause.
But Stan the Man couldn’t close out and fired an easy-looking volley way too short. Murray had already played one incredible running forehand when it had looked impossible to reach the ball – never mind fire a winner. Now he stepped up his game with more fireworks, including a stunning cross-court winner.
That’s why it seemed so odd that Murray didn’t press home his advantage when he had done the hard part and seemed to have that first set in his grasp.
Murray was then involved in a long conversation with an ATP official between sets. He appeared to be complaining about crowd noise, although he had been equally irritated by the amount of time Wawrinka had been taking before he issued challenges to line calls.
And Murray’s mentality looked even more questionable when he planted another limp forehand into the net on the way to losing his very first service game of the second set.
He has repeatedly denied that he has lacked focus in the World Tour Finals this year, even though the Davis Cup final is only days away. But something certainly seemed to be playing on his mind at the O2 arena.
Every time he gave himself half a chance, the Scot produced another unforced error and shook his head as though he hardly recognised the way he was playing.
It may well be that Murray and GB will have reason to be grateful for the poor performances we’ve seen from him at the World Tour Finals – as long as he can rediscover his best form in time for that Davis Cup Final in Belgium. Late on Friday night he still seemed to be searching for a missing ingredient.