The last three days were clear evidence that 2016 will be a barren year for Andy Murray as he struggled through the opening two rounds of this year’s French Open in two gruelling five-set encounters against qualifiers.
There are some extenuating circumstances, however. Murray had no rest day between the two matches, after starting late on Monday and having to complete the final two sets on Tuesday.
Furthermore, Murray isn’t the first big name to struggle in a tournament, reigning champion Stan Wawrinka, Murray’s potential semi-final opponent, had a tough five-set match in the first round against Lukas Rosol, ranked world number 59.
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It’s also worth noting that Murray’s draw may have been tougher than first thought, facing a wily veteran in Radek Stepanek, who was once as high as fourth in the world in 2012, and then facing Mathias Bourgue, a promising young Frenchman, who has sights on the top 100 in the rankings by the end of the year and has the potential to be a top player on the tour.
However, acknowledging each of these potential factors as reasons for why Murray has played four more sets than expected already in this tournament would miss the point. The final few games of the final set against Bourgue made it clear exactly what the problem is.
Murray’s shot-making and ability is undoubted and he was making stunning lobs and cross-court passing shots he needed to stay ahead. What was lacking was focus, dropping his serve for the match at 5-1 up and slipping to 15-30 before eventually wrapping up the fifth set 6-3. That was after Murray had a major warning, slipping to two sets to one down having won the opening set.
Murray’s head isn’t right, and there’s an obvious factor to consider there. Murray split with coach Amelie Mauresmo on May 9, just over a month before the start of the French Open, leaving the temperamental Scot without a mentor for the Grand Slam which has been his weakest throughout his career.
Mauresmo left Murray having had her first child last August, citing time constraints as a major reason for the split, but The Guardian reported at the weekend that Mauresmo blamed Murray’s on-court behaviour for their lack of Grand Slam success as a partnership, creating a minor war of words since.
Now Murray is without a coach for the busiest part of the season, with the French Open swiftly followed by Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open.
If any of the top players in men’s tennis needed a coach to control their focus and mind-set it is Andy Murray and the Scot lacks a coach to keep him in check.
A possible reason why Murray has had to eke out five-set wins in the first two rounds is because his opponents know this and are targeting him knowing that he is fragile.
If that’s the case, Murray is unlikely to find a new coach and develop a working relationship to be a major player in any of the four major tournaments over the coming months, and as Murray hasn’t won a Grand Slam since Wimbledon in 2013, one might wonder if he can ever rekindle his scintillating form of 2012-2013, when he won two Grand Slams and the Olympics and reached two other finals, missing the French Open through a back injury.
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